No more Taylor Swift on TikTok? Universal pulls music amid contract dispute.


Users of the popular video sharing app TikTok will no longer have music from artists including Taylor Swift, Drake or Adele to accompany their videos after a contract disagreement between the platform and the artists’ music label, Universal Music Group.

In a fiery open letter to its artists, Universal said it would not be renewing a contract due to expire on Wednesday to license its content to TikTok, accusing the platform of being a “bully” and of “intimidation” in negotiations to pay for the use of music on its platform. TikTok, it said, was unwilling to “strike anything close to a market-rate deal.”

TikTok pushed back in a strongly worded statement, accusing the heavyweight music label of putting “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,” it added.

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Universal said contract negotiations with TikTok had centered around three main issues: compensation for artists and songwriters; the effects of artificial intelligence; and online safety for TikTok users. All music licensed by Universal is due to be removed from TikTok in the coming days.

It said the success of TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, “has been built in large part on the music created by our artists and songwriters,” and accused the platform of proposing to pay artists “a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.”

Other popular musicians represented by Universal include Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, SZA, Bad Bunny and Ariana Grande. The music company, which has its corporate headquarters in the Netherlands, has a vast catalogue of recordings and songs that stretch back over a century, and includes brands such as Def Jam Recordings and Abbey Road Studios, with music from Coldplay, Kendrick Lamar and Bob Dylan on the books.

TikTok said it has been able to reach similar agreements with other music labels. In July, it reached a “multi-year, multi-product deal” with Warner Music Group.

Users can use a maximum of 60 seconds of music in their creations and cannot play full songs.

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Universal also said TikTok offered “no meaningful solutions” to deal with online content that includes hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform. It also raised concerns about AI, saying the platform was “flooded with AI-generated recordings” and tools to “encourage AI music creation on the platform itself.”

Such moves, it said, would “massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists” and would be viewed as “nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.” However, Universal added that it is keen to “embrace the promise of AI” but had to balance the technology’s potential with ensuring that artists’ rights were fairly protected.

AI-generated music is increasingly finding its way into the mainstream — with mixed results. In 2019, ByteDance purchased the AI music platform Jukedeck, which created tools that could let users alter music to match videos.

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Universal said it recognized that music fans would lose out as a result of its decision not to renew the current agreement. “But we have an overriding responsibility to our artists to fight for a new agreement under which they are appropriately compensated for their work, on a platform that respects human creativity, in an environment that is safe for all, and effectively moderated,” it added.



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