Universal rips up TikTok licensing deal and explains why

Taylor Swift, Post Malone and Ariana Grande are among the artists whose voices could go missing

TikTok stock
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Universal are set to let their current licensing agreement with TikTok expire this summer without negotiating a renewal. That's according to an open letter posted to the site of the dominant music publishing companies' website.

The letter states that negotiations have centred around three pillars: appropriate compensation, protection from AI impersonation and online safety for TikTok users. I'm sure you can guess which pillar has become the sticking point.

Yes, according to the letter on the Universal Music Group (UMG) website, TikTok have attempted to "bully and intimidate" the brand. They claim that smaller UMG artists have been effectively removed from the platform, while the larger artists – those who arguably do as much for TikTok as TikTok does for them – are retained.

All of this, they claim, is a tactic designed to make UMG accept a poor offer for renewed licensing. The letter says that the deal on offer is "worth less than the previous deal [and] far less than fair market value."

All of that sounds a little... hypocritical. Look, I'm not here to say what is true or not. UMG are far closer to this negotiation than I am, so if they tell you that the offer is not good, I'd believe that – certainly as much as you'd believe anything you read online.

But I can't pretend I didn't chuckle when I read that Universal were concerned over the remuneration rights of artists. See, before I turned my hand to writing about the latest in tech and fashion here at T3, I was a professional musician.

My experience with the major record labels – of which, Universal was one – was of exploitation and gatekeeping. Signing with pitiful contracts was the only chance to be heard, and DIY routes to market were blocked too. The whole thing left such a sour taste in my mouth, I ended up switching careers.

That's why I'm really struggling to sympathise with UMG here. While the actions taken by TikTok certainly sound bad, they really only echo the same issues which have plagued the music industry for decades. As a part of that problem, I'm struggling to be sympathetic.

Still, there is little we can do but watch and wait. We'll certainly keep our eyes peeled for more information, as the potential damage for the video-sharing platform could be significant.

Sam Cross
Staff Writer

Online news writer at T3.com, Sam has five years of experience in online and print journalism, with work featured in publications like Metro and Last Word on Sports. After years writing about music and football, Sam now turns his hand to bringing you news about new phones, smart home products, smart watches, laptops and TVs. Sam is a longtime fan and user of Apple products, including iPhones, MacBooks and Apple Watches.He’s also T3’s resident football expert, bringing you everything you need to know about the big games, including how to watch them. In his spare time, Sam is a keen guitarist, watch lover and (very) amateur golfer.