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What's going on with TikTok and UMG?

If you've used Tiktok over the past few days, you might have noticed a major lack of music. The edits you've saved have suddenly been muted, and the videos on your For You Page either have cover songs or no music at all. 

Universal Music Group, otherwise known as UMG, failed to reach a new deal with TikTok. As a result, songs by artists such as Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Justin Bieber have been removed from the platform. 

In the past, UMG and TikTok have maintained contracts to allow the social media platform to use music by artists signed to the former. The most recent contract was set to expire on Jan. 31. However, the day before, UMG published an open letter explaining why they would not renew their contract. 

The letter stated that the first reason they would not continue their contract with TikTok was artist compensation. The platform has long been a source of promotion and income for musicians. However, UMG believed that more compensation was needed. 

"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," the letter stated. "...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." 

Another reason UMG removed its music was due to the creation of AI-generated cover songs. 

Recently, the platform has been saturated with AI covers of artists. While they might be enjoyable to watch, it is unclear who owns the song. UMG believes that the song belongs to the artist and the corporation. UMG even went on to call this "a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI. "

The final reason UMG provided was the lack of protection for artists' online safety. UMG explained that TikTok has offered few solutions for the growing amount of hate speech, harassment and bigotry towards its clients, all while allowing problematic content to circulate, such as deepfakes and pornographic imagery of their artists. 

Allegedly, the platform's solution was to remove the content when it became a problem, which the letter called "the digital equivalent of whack-a-mole." 

Furthermore, the letter later referenced alleged intimidation tactics used by the platform in their negotiations. TikTok was accused of removing the music of rising UMG artists while retaining the music of their international superstars to pressure UMG to accept a deal that would have benefited them less than their previous one. 

TikTok responded to these accusations with a short response. It explained that UMG's narrative was false and that the company was attempting to put its own greed above its artists. The platform also claimed that it had reached plenty of other deals with other music corporations in the past. This is true, as it reached a deal with Warner Music Group in July 2023. 

So now TikTok and UMG are at a standoff. What does that mean for the platform's future?

Not only will songs created by UMG's artists be removed, but many others. Universal Music Publishing Group will also remove songs with any connection to UMG. This includes songs with writing credits to people like Jack Antonoff and Metro Boomin, as well as songs that sample UMG music. 

This decision creates many problems for TikTok. Users will have to turn to alternative audio sources for videos or stop using the platform altogether. Many users have been vocal about their feelings about this. Noah Kahan, a Grammy-nominated folk-pop singer-songwriter, expressed concern on his TikTok account about the end of the deal. He explained that he could no longer promote his music on the platform before quipping that "at least he wasn't a TikTok artist," referencing the success he gained from the app.

The fact that many rising and established artists are unable to promote music due to the standoff between the platform and UMG poses a major issue to the future of the platform, as many artists gain and maintain a following through the app. Whether or not this issue will get rectified soon is still up for debate, as neither party is currently budging on its stance. 


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