Universal Music Publishes Scathing Open Letter About TikTok

Mike Blake/Reuters
Mike Blake/Reuters

Universal Music Group has torn TikTok to shreds in an open letter, accusing it of bullying, indifference, and intimidation as it announced it was calling a “time out” on the popular social media platform.

The letter explains that Universal Music Group’s agreement with TikTok expires on Jan. 31 and so far, the companies have failed to reach an agreement on three key issues: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

It alleged that TikTok “attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth.”

It added TikTok allegedly attempted to “intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans.”

Ultimately that means the Universal’s artists, including Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Adele, and Harry Styles, will be removed from the platform if a deal is not reached by Wednesday, a Universal spokesperson confirmed to Reuters. Universal is the biggest music company in the world.

Universal claimed TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, “proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay,” explaining that despite its popularity and growing ad revenue, TikTok accounts for 1 percent of Universal’s total revenue.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” the letter read.

Regarding AI, it claimed TikTok was heading in a direction “that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

“Further, TikTok makes little effort to deal with the vast amounts of content on its platform that infringe our artists’ music and it has offered no meaningful solutions to the rising tide of content adjacency issues, let alone the tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform,” the letter continued.

“The only means available to seek the removal of infringing or problematic content (such as pornographic deepfakes of artists) is through the monumentally cumbersome and inefficient process which equates to the digital equivalent of ‘Whack-a-Mole.’

“But when we proposed that TikTok takes similar steps as our other platform partners to try to address these issues, it responded first with indifference, and then with intimidation.”

When the negotiations hit a snag, Universal alleges the social media company attempted to “intimidate” it by “selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars.”

“We recognize the challenges that TikTok’s actions will cause, and do not underestimate what this will mean to our artists and their fans who, unfortunately, will be among those subjected to the near-term consequences of TikTok’s unwillingness to strike anything close to a market-rate deal and meaningfully address its obligations as a social platform,” the letter said.

“But we have an overriding responsibility to our artists to fight for a new agreement under which they are appropriately compensated for their work, on a platform that respects human creativity, in an environment that is safe for all, and effectively moderated.”

In a statement to The Daily Beast, TikTok claimed Universal’s story was “false” and warned the move would be problematic for artists, songwriters, and fans.

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” the statement said.

“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.

“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.”

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