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Ever Used Drake, Taylor Swift or Harry Styles On Your TikToks? Universal Music Group’s Licensing Agreement Is Taking Them Away

Have you been following the negotiations between Universal Music Group (UMG) and TikTok? Well, it’s just taken a drastic turn as UMG have published an open letter and refused to renew their licence. If you have ever used Taylor Swift, Drake, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, the Weeknd or The 1975 in your videos, they are about to get muted. Keep reading to discover the reasons behind their decision and what it means for your social media efforts.

For the last year, UMG and TikTok have been trying to broker a deal to renew their licensing agreement, which expired on Wednesday 31 January. However, their negotiations came to a bitter end, with UMG publishing an open letter titled “Why We Must Call Time Out on TikTok: An Open Letter to the Artist and Songwriter Community”, going as far as accusing TikTok of using bullying tactics to get their own way.

In their letter, they outline three critical issues with TikTok: appropriate compensation for artists and songwriters, protecting artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for their artists and TikTok users. The upshot for users of TikTok and this disagreement is that any videos that have been published to the platform in the past will suddenly get muted and the sounds and songs will be removed from the music libraries altogether.

UMG state that, unlike their other partners, Tiktok only contribute to 1% of their total revenue, and they’re aiming to build a music-based business without paying fair value for the music that played, and still plays, a pivotal role in propelling the platform to global prominence. TikTok’s endorsement of AI generated content, coupled with the development of their own AI tools, also raised alarms for UMG. Against the backdrop of the recent SAG-AFTRA strike, the prospect of artists being replaced by AI is increasingly becoming a prominent concern across creative industries.

As a consequence of UMG severing ties with TikTok, numerous artists, including the likes of Taylor Swift, Drake, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, have been removed from the platform. These artists had all previously benefitted from the viral nature of TikTok, but now videos featuring their songs, even on their own profiles, have been muted. A message now accompanies these muted videos, explaining that the sound was removed due to copyright restrictions.

So, What Happens Now?

TikTok has a huge influence on popular music today. In 2022, the platform claimed that it was responsible for the success of 13 out of 14 songs to reach the Billboard Hot 100.

UMG’s decision to withdraw from TikTok carries significant ramifications for the social media landscape. As a major music label representing, and part-representing, nearly 4 million songs, many of which are responsible for viral sensations, UMG’s absence will curtail TikTok users’ access to a plethora of popular artists and their tracks. This absence not only stifles creativity for content creators, but also impacts user engagement and discoverability on the platform.

Their departure is also bad news for businesses, who are already contending with limited music libraries on various platforms, such as Instagram. The lack of access to popular music from UMG artists’ music, which many will have used without even realising, restricts businesses’ capacity to leverage popular tunes in their social media marketing efforts and, in turn, impacts the effectiveness of their content and campaigns.

On top of this, TikTok may encounter challenges with user-generated content (UGC) as creators take matters into their own hands and upload unlicensed song snippets. If this happens, UMG could start issuing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices. This process, previously deployed by UMG on platforms like YouTube and Twitter in the past, empowers copyright holders to remove UGC that infringes copyright.

The departure of such a significant music entity underscores the challenges that artists face in the current social media environment. Could this fight cause other music labels and even content creators to reassess their relationship with TikTok? Given the platform’s dependence on music, if other music labels decide to follow suit, TikTok might see the beginning of its demise.


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