Millions of Hit Songs Vanish From TikTok Amid Fallout of UMG Licensing Debacle
Songs by Taylor Swift, Drake, Beyoncé and many more contemporary music superstars have vanished en masse from TikTok after Universal Music Group severed ties with the social media giant following a contentious contract dispute.
A search of Swift's viral hit "Cruel Summer" now comes up empty on TikTok, where the song's audio recently sparked a trend that led to its usage in over 2.5 million videos. The same goes for searches of The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights," which had been used in nearly two million videos. "This sound isn't available," the site reads.
UMG wields the world's largest music catalog and its departure from TikTok leaves the platform bereft of millions of the popular songs with which its creators record content. Existing videos with UMG-owned audio embedded are now muted but remain on users' accounts, albeit without sound.
However, TikTok is fully licensed and has agreements in place with all other major and independent labels, sources close to the social media platform confirmed to EDM.com. Those sources also tell us TikTok argued that it is "not a music streaming platform and should not be licensed as such."
The music's removal is the upshot of the erosion of licensing discussions between TikTok and UMG, the latter of which ultimately shared a scathing open latter. They said that negotiations collapsed after urging TikTok to address "three critical issues — appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok's users."
UMG also claimed that TikTok "attempted to bully" them into a proposed deal that would've paid its musicians and songwriters "a fraction" of the amount disbursed by other social media platforms, adding that the app comprises roughly 1% of its total revenue. The two firms' existing agreement expired on January 31st.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech company Bytedance, responded to UMG's open letter in the wake of its release and accused them of putting "their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters."
"Despite Universal's false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent," reads TikTok's statement. "TikTok has been able to reach 'artist-first' agreements with every other label and publisher. Clearly, Universal's self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans."
TikTok is expected to reach two billion users by the end of 2024, per Business of Apps.