Starting Thursday,the sounds on TikTok have gotten a little quieter. That’s because Universal Music Group has removed its catalog from the video-sharing app after the massive music company failed to reach a licensing agreement with TikTok. Taylor Swift, Drake, Bad Bunny, Ariana Grande, and Billie Eilish are just a few of the major artists on the label whose music has begun to disappear.
On TikTok, creators often add short song clips to their videos to participate in viral trends and make the content more engaging. Not only will users now be unable to make new videos with official snippets from UMG artists, previously published videos that contain music from the pulled catalog have gone silent, accompanied by notices like “Sound removed due to copyright restrictions.” UMG’s catalog includes everyone from BTS to the Beatles, and any video featuring their songs could be affected.
UMG released a statement Tuesday, the day before its contract with TikTok expired, claiming that renewal negotiations fell apart due to disagreements over artist compensation, artificial intelligence protections, and platform safety. The statement’s wording characterizes TikTok as a bully. “How did it try to intimidate us?” it reads. “By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars.” It’s unclear which smaller artists at UMG may have been affected before the deal lapsed and the wider song prohibition rolled out.
TikTok responded to the announcement with a similarly charged, albeit shorter, statement calling UMG greedy and deceptive. “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,” it reads. TikTok’s influence over the music industry has expanded in recent years as artists (and their labels) attempt to break through the platform’s cryptic algorithm. A stand-alone app for streaming songs, called TikTok Music, is currently in beta for certain international markets.
As generative AI tools improve, songs featuring AI vocals or other structural elements continue to spread on social media. UMG’s statement claims TikTok promotes the creation of AI music and that the contract TikTok wants “is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.” This is not the first time UMG has taken issue with machine learning. The label filed a lawsuit last October against Anthropic, a chatbot company, regarding how Anthropic’s AI model may use copyrighted lyrics from UMG artists.
Updated: 2/1/2024, 8:32 am EST: Universal Music Group has officially pulled its catalog from TikTok.