TikTok Music Removal Escalates due to Dispute with Universal

Published February 27, 2024

In an ongoing dispute with Universal Music Group (UMG) over royalties, TikTok has begun to remove additional music from its platform. Initially, tracks by artists under UMG were stripped from TikTok, and now the musical works of songwriters are also being erased.

TikTok's Growing Silence

The popular video-sharing app had previously ceased the use of songs by UMG artists, but it's now also targeting music created by songwriters from the label. As such, hits by famed artists like Harry Styles and Adele, who collaborated with UMG songwriters, are facing removal from the platform, potentially affecting the app's soundtrack drastically. TikTok estimates that around 30% of its 'popular songs' could vanish, whereas industry analyses suggest this number could rise to an alarming 80%, spanning a mix of major labels and independent artists.

The Copyright Complication

The issue lies in something called 'split copyrights.' In essence, if a Universal-signed songwriter has even a small part in a song, that song could theoretically be pulled from TikTok. This includes tracks by artists from other labels, which could significantly reshape the music landscape on the platform. Earlier this year, TikTok's license to feature Universal's three million song recording catalog expired without renewal, leading to its removal in February. The publishing catalogue, boasting another four million tracks, is predicted to follow suit by the end of the week.

Industry Reactions and Challenges

UMG has accused TikTok of offering payment rates much lower than other platforms, asserting that TikTok contributes to only 1% of UMG's total revenue despite its vast user base. In contrast, TikTok has denied these accusations, highlighting its role in the music industry as a vital promotional tool for artists. The platform, known for propelling songs to virality through dance trends and challenges, has also been a launchpad for emerging artists to achieve mainstream success.

The Artists' Perspective

The royalty row raises concerns for artists who leveraged TikTok for building their fanbases before signing to a major label. Several artists have shared their mixed feelings on the situation, with some supporting Universal's stance on seeking fair compensation, while others wish for a resolution that doesn't sideline the creators at the heart of the dispute.

TikTok, Universal, royalties