Universal Music Group threatens to remove its entire catalog off TikTok

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Universal Music could pull millions of its songs from TikTok as the two sides continue to negotiate over royalty rates. The label, which includes Drake, The Weeknd, and Taylor Swift on its roster, has said that TikTok are currently willing to pay just a “fraction” of the money they receive from rival social media companies. TikTok has responded by claiming Universal are presenting a “false narrative and rhetoric.”

In an open letter published on Tuesday, Universal alleged that TikTok was “bullying” them as they attempt to reach an agreement over a new licensing deal. The letter stated that TikTok accounts for as little as 1% of their total revenue and that “ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music.” If a new agreement is not in place when its contract expires on January 31, Universal says it will remove its library from the platform.

Universal also said that it is seeking “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters”, as well as “protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

On the subject of AI, the letter states that 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… a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

In response, TikTok has 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.”

Any such removal would be a significant blow to TikTok and its users. Universal controls a major part of the recorded music business, with Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Kendrick Lamar, and Ariana Grande among the artists whose music would no longer be accessible on the platform. Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor,” a recent viral hit, is also owned by the label.