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TikTok responds to Universal Music's warning of ceasing licenses as their deal expires

TikTok logo with AI in the background

Yesterday, Universal Music Group (UMG) posted an open letter to the popular social media platform TikTok. UMG is a leading music corporation that partners with TikTok to promote its music.

This partnership expires today, January 31, 2024. The contract has yet to be renewed as the two corporations are on bad terms.

Once the contract expires, UMG will remove all audios from TikTok's music catalog. This means TikTok will not be legally allowed to possess the 3 million recorded tracks and 4 million songs published by UMG.

The issue arose because UMG has three major concerns about TikTok and its practices.

In its letter, UMG revealed its worries about the protection of artists against the harms of AI and AI-generated content, the safety of TikTok users, and the way UMG artists are compensated for their music.

The corporation clarified other partners are addressing these issues well, unlike TikTok. UMG also mentioned that its Artist-Centric initiative is working on compensating artists appropriately and protecting their rights. UMG wrote:

“With respect to the issue of artist and songwriter compensation, TikTok proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay. Today, as an indication of how little TikTok compensates artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue, and increasing reliance on music-based content, TikTok accounts for only about 1% of our total revenue.”

Regarding AI, UMG argued that TikTok encourages AI-generated music and videos through the content tools it offers. It wrote that TikTok is also promoting such content by offering contractual rights and called this “nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

The music company further elaborated that TikTok does not effectively deal with hate speech and content adjacency issues. This means the algorithm could place a company’s ad next to negative or inappropriate content.

The letter continues to reveal incidences where maintaining a partnership with TikTok became more difficult. UMG stated that when it asked TikTok to address its worries, the partner offered a deal worth less than the previous one. It also removed content from newer UMG artists while keeping the music of artists popular with the TikTok audience.

The letter called out the Bytedance-owned platform for “intimidating” UMG, staying "indifferent," and attempting to “bully” it into signing a bad deal.

In response to these allegations, TikTok shared the following newsroom post today:

It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.

Despite Universal's false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent.

TikTok has been able to reach '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.”

Earlier this month, TikTok was also under fire for allegedly having incorrect age ratings on different app stores. It has worried various parties about its content and its practices on several occasions.

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