Universal Music has accused TikTok of bullying and threatened to pull millions of songs from the platform following a breakdown in payment negotiations – which would remove access to music by artists including Taylor Swift and Drake.
In a scathing open letter shared online, titled Why We Must Call Time Out On TikTok, Universal said it had pressed on “three critical issues” – payment for artists and songwriters, protection from the “harmful effects” of AI, and online safety – ahead of its current contract expiring today.
The video-hosting site responded to requests by the company, which is the biggest music label group in the world, “first with indifference, and then with intimidation”, the open letter said, and “attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal” by removing the music of developing artists while keeping the work of “audience-driving” global stars.
Universal accused TikTok of “trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music” and effectively “sponsoring artist replacement by AI” by allowing the site to be “flooded” with AI-generated recordings.
It proposed paying artists and songwriters “a fraction” of the rate that other similar social media platforms pay for access to its catalogue, the letter said.
‘A false narrative and rhetoric’
TikTok has responded in kind, accusing Universal of presenting a “false narrative and rhetoric” and putting “greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters” by walking 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”.
In a statement, the social media site added: “TikTok has been able to reach ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher. Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans.”
Universal holds the rights to some of the world’s biggest artists, from Coldplay and Bob Dylan to Adele and Billie Eilish.
The music company previously reached a deal with TikTok in February 2021, which allowed users on the app to be able to incorporate clips from its music catalogue in their videos.
TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Despite it having more than 1 billion users, it accounts for 1% of Universal’s total revenue, the label said.