Universal Music Group Clashes with TikTok on Audio Rights

Universal Music Group, otherwise known as UMG, has been locked in tense negotiations with TikTok over audio rights on the social media platform.
Universal Music Group Clashes with TikTok on Audio Rights
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Universal Music Group, otherwise known as UMG, has been locked in tense negotiations with TikTok over audio rights on the social media platform. UMG holds the rights to major musical acts, but also holds ownership over a wide range of sub-labels. On February 1st, UMG let its licensing agreement with TikTok expire, causing significant disruption for users and businesses across the platform as the two giants remain in discussions. Some artists and associations hail UMG’s initiative as a major stand against companies that seek to devalue artists, while others are critical of the label’s actions as undermining the success of smaller artists under UMG’s umbrella. 

Issues first arose when TikTok reportedly began removing UMG-affiliated audio from its platform in mid-late 2023, resembling similar conflicts experienced by Sony around the same time. UMG cited issues with pay, as well as AI safeguards and app safety as driving factors behind the negotiations. Some groups, such as the National Music Publishers Association, echoed the same concerns highlighted by UMG. “Recently, the press has highlighted concerns around TikTok’s licensing practices, concerns that NMPA has heard directly from many of our members,” the NMPA said in a letter to its members. In the letter, the NMPA also declared their expectation for their own licensing with TikTok to lapse.

Independent labels and artists, however, have grievances with this approach. The key problem these artists face is reach; while established names under UMG (such as Drake, Taylor Swift and Gwen Stefani) aren’t as affected by these interruptions, smaller acts rely on the visibility provided by TikTok. Content creators and media producers across all industries have also been affected by the fallout of the stalemate, resulting in content being removed, muted, or otherwise nullified on the platform. 

This high-stakes deadlock has brought attention to numerous issues that remain persistent in music and media. Platforms that once provided a mutually beneficial relationship for artists have come to rely on them to an increasingly greater degree, while reducing the perceived benefit for said artists. With the proliferation of AI, creators are also concerned with their work being directly utilized without proper compensation. At the same time, the conflict also displays the risks posed by consolidation, as the decisions made by UMG reverberate to such a degree that they affect artists and media producers across multiple industries. 

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