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Universal Music To Leave TikTok Over AI, Compensation Concerns Before 2024 Grammys

Last Updated January 31, 2024 2:33 PM
Samantha Dunn
Last Updated January 31, 2024 2:33 PM
Key Takeaways
  • Universal accused TikTok of attempting to “bully” and “intimidate” it into accepting terms.
  • An open letter to TikTok outlined accusations of AI-generated recordings replacing artists.
  • The multinational music corporation is expected to pull songs from TikTok in the coming days.

Universal Music Group (UMG) contract with TikTok expires on Wednesday 31st January, marking the departure of the multinational music corporation from the social media platform.

The label behind some of the biggest music artists in the world has criticized TikTok in an open letter, citing poor compensation for their artists, TikTok’s promotion of AI artists, and online safety.

UMG Accuses TikTok of Intimidation

The world’s largest record label penned an open letter  on Tuesday, calling out their current partner TikTok for failing to provide “fair value” to the music label.

In the letter, titled “An open letter to the artist and songwriter community – Why we must call time out on TikTok”, UMG accused TikTok of attempting to “bully” and “intimidate” them.

“When we proposed that TikTok takes similar steps as our other platform partners to try to address these issues, it responded first with indifference, and then with intimidation”, UMG revealed.

“As our negotiations continued, 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. How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars”.

The music label raised other issues that had led to their decision to cease their relationship, choosing to use the strongly worded letter to expose the “tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment” on the platform.

AI Replacing Artists

UMG addressed concerns it has around using AI artists, noting “TikTok is allowing the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings—as well as developing tools to enable, promote and encourage AI music creation on the platform itself – and then demanding a contractual right which would allow this content to massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI”.

The use of AI on TikTok has broader implications beyond the music industry. An online petition recently called for TikTok to clearly label AI influencers, stating that AI influencers contribute to harming healthy body image in children by promoting unrealistic standards.

TikTok Responds

The response  from TikTok is equally strongly worded. The social platform said:

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has 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”.

TikTok Universal Music.
TikTok Responds to UMG. Source: TikTok

TikTok added that they had been able to come to ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher except for UMG.

Following unsuccessful negotiations and the online back and forth between UMG and TikTok, it appears that Universal Music will pull songs from their represented artists over an unspecified period.

UMG currently represents Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Ariana Grande among other major musicians and groups. This marks the first time the music label has removed its songs from a tech platform and comes just a week ahead of the 2024 Grammys.

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