TikTok loses songs from Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake amid Universal Music Group dispute

By 02/01/2024
TikTok loses songs from Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake amid Universal Music Group dispute

TikTok is in the middle of a power struggle against the biggest record label in the world. Universal Music Group pulled its library from TikTok after its licensing contract with the video app expired on January 31.

UMG’s roster includes tracks from some of the most popular musicians in the world, including Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake, and BTS. Since the expiration of the label’s TikTok contract, its artists’ tracks have become unavailable and have been muted in preexisting videos. UMG’s sweep has not been complete; at the time of this post, TikToks that include Taylor Swift songs are just a search away.

@stackedshelf It’s me. Hi. #taylorswift #antihero #antiherochallenge #ts #bookworm #booktoker #booklover #midnights ♬ Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift


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TikTok’s struggle to effectively moderate its vast library is one of the sticking points that is holding up its dealings with UMG. In an open letter, the “Big Three” label pushed TikTok to respond to “three critical issues” on its platform: Its support for AI songwriting tools that affect artists’ bottom lines, its lowball offer during negotiations, and “content adjacency issues” that pop up when popular songs provide the soundtrack for offensive content.

UMG alleges that TikTok offered terms that were “far less than fair market value” and backed up its squeeze play with intimidation tactics. “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,” reads the open letter. “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.”

TikTok fired back with a vehement denial of UMG’s allegations. Representatives for the app argued that UMG has no right to hold up negotiations while other labels accept “artist-first” terms. “It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” reads TikTok’s statement. “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.”

This is not the first time that a major label and a social video platform have experienced a contract dispute. Eight years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) accused YouTube of creating a “value gap” between the size of its library and the size of its artist payouts. Though the music world is vastly different now from the way it was back then, TikTok may be building a value gap as well. Thanks to its devoted base of Gen Z consumers, it has become a driver of pop music culture. Can its agreement with labels keep up with its growth?

Ultimately, TikTok and UMG are engaged in a public game of chicken. The label wants to pressure TikTok into better terms by playing the Taylor Swift card, while the app seems to be saying that UMG can’t afford to keep its stars off of the most impactful video platform in the pop world.

The tension between artist reps and streamers is reminiscent of the animosity that led to last year’s WGA and SAG strikes, and some onlookers are suggesting that a similar work stoppage could be coming to the recording industry. No matter which path the negotiations take, this dispute is far from settled.

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