Universal threatens to pull Taylor Swift’s songs off TikTok in dispute over payments

Jan 31, 2024, 11:30 AM | Updated: 11:51 am

Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour at Allianz Parque in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in November 2023...

Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour at Allianz Parque in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in November 2023. Mandatory Credit: Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images

London (CNN) — Universal Music Group has threatened to pull its music off TikTok in a dispute over royalties, a move that would prevent more than 1 billion users of the platform from streaming a vast catalog of songs by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and other artists.

On Tuesday, Universal released a statement called “An open letter to the artist and songwriter community — why we must call time out on TikTok,” in which it said its licensing agreement with the platform expires Wednesday. It did not respond to a CNN request for further comment.

One of the issues Universal has been focusing on in its “contract renewal discussions” with TikTok is “appropriate compensation” for its artists and songwriters, the company said. TikTok allows its users to add music to their videos.

TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, had proposed paying a “fraction” of the rate that similarly-sized social media platforms pay, Universal said.

Like other music companies, Netherlands-based Universal charges royalty fees when its songs are played on social media platforms. It also owns music by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, J Balvin and Amy Winehouse.

TikTok responded by saying Universal was pushing “false narrative and rhetoric” and accused the company of putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

“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 said in a statement.

AI replacing artists?

In its open letter, Universal accused TikTok of “trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music.”

“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,” the music giant said.

Universal also said it had been pressing TikTok to better protect musicians from “the harmful effects” of artificial intelligence and to ensure online safety for TikTok’s users.

TikTok is allowing its platform to be “flooded” with AI-generated music, and provides users with tools to create their own AI-generated recordings, Universal said.

When pressed on these issues, TikTok has responded with “indifference, and then with intimidation”, according to Universal, by removing some of its up-and-coming artists from the platform, while keeping the music of global stars.

In its response, TikTok said it had reached “artist-first” agreements with “every other label and publisher.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to make clear that Universal has not yet pulled its music from TikTok.

Elizabeth Wagmeister contributed to this article.

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Universal threatens to pull Taylor Swift’s songs off TikTok in dispute over payments