Lecia Bushak
Feb 4, 2024

Universal pulls music on TikTok amid contract dispute

Universal pulled music from Taylor Swift, Drake and many others after arguing TikTok was not paying them enough or doing enough to protect them from AI

Getty Images
Getty Images

Videos posted on TikTok backed by songs from Taylor Swift and the Weeknd may soon be going mute.

Universal Music Group, the company behind Swift, U2, Drake, Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish, has decided to pull all its songs from the social media platform following a contract dispute.

Shortly before its licensing contract with TikTok was to expire on January 31, the company released a letter urging a “time out on TikTok.” It called out the platform for not providing “appropriate compensation” to its songwriters.

The company added that TikTok’s compensation proposal for its artists and songwriters was “a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay” and that TikTok was aiming to develop a music-based business “without paying fair value for the music.”

AI is at the heart of the dispute, with Universal claiming that TikTok was not adequately “protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI.” It claimed that TikTok was allowing AI-generated recordings to proliferate on the platform and demanding a “contractual right” for it, which would threaten the livelihoods of human artists.

Universal’s other main point of contention was that TikTok was not doing enough to ensure online safety for its users. The letter touched on concerns that social media is negative for young people’s mental health.

Specifically, Universal pointed out that TikTok has not adequately addressed “the tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform.”

Users on TikTok responded to the news earlier this week, with many noting that Universal’s move may harm it in the long run. TikTok, they said, is often where artists are discovered and established artists gain popularity.

@yomrants This is a huge deal…..#greenscreen #universalmusic #universalmusicgroup #tiktok #music #news #popculture #yomrants #rants #sza #arianagrande #drake #eminem #kendricklamar #oliviarodrigo #taylorswift ♬ original sound - myah elliott

@dailyxsav Goodbye goodbye goodbye �� #taylorswift #umg #music #tiktok #swiftie #swifttok #dailysav #dailyxsav ♬ original sound - Savannah

The Universal-TikTok spat flared as major tech companies were grilled by lawmakers at a Senate hearing on online child safety this week. Lawmakers argued that the CEOs of TikTok, Meta, X, Snap and Discord “have blood on [their] hands” for not enacting stronger protections to prevent sexual predation and harassment.

Many of the concerns voiced at the hearing echoed a previous advisory issued by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who reported in May 2023 that social media has a negative impact on kids’ mental health.

TikTok remains one of the fastest-growing platforms in the U.S., surging 12% between 2021 and 2023, according to Pew Research Center. One-third of adults in the U.S. use TikTok, compared to 21% in 2021. It’s increasingly a platform used for health information, with more and more young people consulting TikTok over their own doctors.


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