Universal Music Group is poised to pull its agreement with TikTok in the next 24 hours after it accused the social media platform of trying to “bully” and “intimidate” them into accepting an inferior deal.
The tech upset will see millions of hit songs removed from TikTok, including works by artists including Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and the Beatles.
Music is a key component of TikTok where users are able to upload short-form videos soundtracked by popular licensed music and sound effects.
Why is Universal pulling its music from TikTok?
In a scathing “open letter to the artist and songwriter community”, Universal – which controls about a third of the world’s music – claimed TikTok accounts for “only about 1 per cent of our total revenue”, a figure they said was evidence 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”.
They added that the social media firm had “proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay”, accusing the company of “trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music”.
It went on to state that TikTok is “allowing the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings”, a move that it states “massively dilute[s] the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI”.
It also criticised the platform for “offering no meaningful solutions” to the “tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment”.
When negotiations between the two companies stalled, Universal alleges that TikTok tried to “intimidate” the company “by selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists” while keeping bigger stars on the platform.
“TikTok’s tactics are obvious: use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans,” it wrote.
In response, TikTok said that it was “sad and disappointing” that Universal had “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.”
It added that Universal’s “self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans”.
Which artists and songs will disappear from TikTok?
Universal controls about a third of the world’s music, meaning this move will have a significant impact on the selection of songs available to social media users.
Universal Media Group currently holds the rights to artists including:
The company also holds the rights to viral hits such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor”, which has seen users recreating the final scene from the 2023 film Saltburn on the social media platform.
Saltburn-themed videos have attracted more than four billion views on TikTok.
Could more music companies follow suit?
Music companies earn royalty payments when their songs are played on streaming and social media platforms.
TikTok also has similar contracts with Sony and Warner Music, but whether they share any of Universal’s concerns remains to be seen.