Universal Music Group ends TikTok licensing amid allegations of bullying and AI concerns

Universal Music Group (UMG) has declared its decision to terminate music licensing with TikTok, alleging the short-form video platform, owned by ByteDance, engaged in bullying and intimidation during contract negotiations. The existing licensing agreement expired on Wednesday, and UMG has expressed concerns about compensation for artists, safeguarding human artists from AI-related harm, and ensuring online safety for TikTok users.

In an open letter, UMG accused TikTok of proposing payment rates significantly lower than those offered by other major social platforms, contributing only 1% of UMG’s total revenue despite TikTok’s substantial user base and growing ad revenue. UMG claimed TikTok allowed its platform to be inundated with AI-generated recordings and sought contractual rights that could diminish royalties for human artists, promoting AI-created content as a replacement.

The music industry is grappling with the impact of artificial intelligence on music creation, with UMG asserting TikTok makes insufficient efforts to address content infringing on artists’ rights. UMG further accused TikTok of using intimidation tactics, alleging attempts to force an inferior deal during negotiations, including selectively removing music from developing artists while retaining content from global stars.

In response, TikTok criticized UMG for prioritizing greed over artists’ interests, asserting that UMG chose to walk away from a platform with over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery tool for their talent. TikTok highlighted successful agreements with other labels and publishers, emphasizing its commitment to an “artist-first” approach and referencing a previous licensing deal with Warner Music Group.