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UMG vs. TikTok: Taylor Swift, Drake, and More Face Removal as Label Ends Music Licensing Agreement

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In a dramatic turn of events, Universal Music Group (UMG) has declared its decision to cease licensing its music on TikTok, raising the possibility of major artists such as Taylor Swift, Drake, Bad Bunny, and BTS having their songs removed from the popular social media platform.

The announcement, detailed in an open letter on UMG’s website, reveals that the existing music licensing agreement between UMG and TikTok is set to expire on Wednesday, with no agreement reached on new terms. UMG cited various issues hindering the negotiation process, including concerns related to artist and songwriter compensation, protection from the impacts of artificial intelligence, and user safety on TikTok, reminiscent of concerns raised during last summer’s Hollywood strikes.

Starting Wednesday, all music licensed by UMG is expected to be gradually removed from TikTok in the coming days, following the expiration of the current agreement.

UMG accuses TikTok of attempting to “bully us into accepting a deal” and points out that TikTok’s proposed payment to artists and songwriters is “a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.”

TikTok responded to UMG’s claims in a statement to USA TODAY, labeling them as a “false narrative” driven by “greed.” The platform expressed disappointment in UMG’s prioritization of financial gain over the interests of their artists and songwriters, emphasizing TikTok’s role as a free promotional and discovery platform with over a billion users.

The statement from TikTok asserts, “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.”

The potential removal of music from artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, Bad Bunny, and others could impact TikTok’s music landscape significantly. UMG represents a wide array of artists, including those under labels like Capitol Records, Republic Records, Interscope Records, Def Jam Recordings, and more.

UMG highlighted that despite TikTok’s massive user base and rising advertising revenue, only 1% of its total revenue is generated from the platform. The label accused TikTok of attempting to push for a deal that undervalues the music content, emphasizing the platform’s exponential growth.

The dispute takes a unique turn as UMG accuses TikTok of enabling and promoting AI-generated music, alleging that TikTok’s proposed contractual right would dilute the royalty pool for human artists, potentially leading to artist replacement by AI. The label also accuses the platform of indifference and intimidation when presented with proposals to address these concerns.

As the clash between UMG and TikTok unfolds, the music industry awaits the resolution of this dispute, with potential repercussions for both artists and the broader landscape of music on social media platforms.