Universal Media Group, or UMG, has started to remove its music catalog on TikTok from artists and songwriters such as Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Elton John and The Beatles — among many other prominent figures — due to an expired licensing deal.

In a letter published by UMG, the terms of its contract expired this past Wednesday and UMG and TikTok have yet to reach an agreement as the music company has emphasized to resolve three contractual issues:

  • Appropriate compensation for artists and songwriters.
  • Protecting artists from AI.
  • Safety for TikTok users.

Per USA Today, any video using songs from artists associated with UMG are currently muted with a notice that the selected song was removed for copyright reasons.

The deal between TikTok and the label commenced in February 2021, which until recently, allowed users to use UMG’s music catalog in their videos, as written by Reuters.

In addition, UMG’s letter stated that as negotiations have been assessed, “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.”

Appropriate compensation

According to the The Associated Press, TikTok proposed to pay the label’s artists and songwriters at a smaller proportion compared to other major social media platforms.

UMG in its letter didn’t accept this offer, as TikTok, despite its massively growing fan base and music community, only accounted for 1% of the music company’s total revenue.

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

Protection from AI

NBC News shared that UMG has concerns about AI and its potential for legal issues regarding intellectual property.

For example, the label’s letter raised the phenomenon of TikTok allowing AI-generated recordings through the platform, as creators can use AI tools to modify artists’ voices into non-human forms of song. Because of this, the content can “massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

This protection becomes evocative once reflected back to last summer’s feud between Hollywood studios and SAG-AFTRA strikes, which involved concerns including that of AI replacing human elements from actors and shows, alike, per USA Today.

TikTok user’s safety

The label, as reported by the The Associated Press, has taken issue with TikTok’s efforts to combat issues of “hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment” on its own platform.

UMG’s letter claims that what TikTok has implemented to remove infringing, troublesome content is a “monumentally cumbersome and inefficient process which equates to the digital equivalent of ‘Whack-a-Mole.’”

Additionally, the music company claims that TikTok’s negotiating tactics are used to “hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate (UMG) into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans.”

What has TikTok said about UMG’s letter?

A statement was published to TikTok’s newsroom website on Tuesday, saying that UMG “has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

TikTok added, “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.”

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