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Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and others may vanish from TikTok as licensing dispute boils over

Jan 31, 2024, 4:42 AM

Taylor Swift's new album will be used as the soundtrack for a laser show at the Pacific Science Cen...

Taylor Swift's new album will be used as the soundtrack for a laser show at the Pacific Science Center. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

Universal Music Group, which represents artists including Taylor Swift, Drake, Adele, Bad Bunny and Billie Eilish, says that it will no longer allow its music on TikTok now that a licensing deal between the two parties has expired.

UMG said that it had not agreed to terms of a new deal with TikTok, and plans to stop licensing content from the artists it represents on the social media platform that is owned by ByteDance, as well as TikTok Music services.

The licensing agreement between UMG and TikTok is expired as of Wednesday.

In a Tuesday letter addressed to artists and songwriters, UMG said that it had been pressing TikTok on three issues: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

UMG said that TikTok proposed paying its artists and songwriters at a rate that’s a fraction of the rate that other major social platforms pay, adding that TikTok makes up only about 1% of its total revenue.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” UMG said.

TikTok pushed back against claims by UMG, saying that it has reached ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher.

“Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans,” TikTok said.

Yet Universal Music also called new technology a potential threat to artists and said that TikTok is developing tools to enable, promote and encourage AI music creation. UMG accused the platform of “demanding a contractual right which would allow this content to massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

UMG also took issue with what it described as safety issues on TikTok. UMG is unsatisfied with TikTok’s efforts to deal with what it says is hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment. It said that having troubling content removed from TikTok is a “monumentally cumbersome and inefficient process which equates to the digital equivalent of “Whack-a-Mole.”

UMG said it proposed that TikTok take steps similar to what some of its other social media platform partners use, but that it was met with indifference at first, and then with intimidation.

“As our negotiations continued, TikTok attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth,” UMG said. “How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars.”

TikTok, however said that Universal Music is putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

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Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and others may vanish from TikTok as licensing dispute boils over