Why you may no longer hear music by artists like Taylor Swift and Adele on TikTok

Music by artists such as Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Adele could be pulled from TikTok after a breakdown in talks between Universal Music Group and the social media platform over royalties, Rishi Davda explains

Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Adele might be about to see their discography wiped off TikTok after the platform failed to find an agreement with the Universal Music Group over issues including artist compensation and AI.

Some of the app's biggest hits, including by The Beatles, Drake, and Ariana Grande, will also be removed from TikTok's music library as their initial deal with UMG is set to expire in the next 24 hours.

The social media app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, allows users to post short videos with effects and music. It has boomed in popularity over the last five years and has 1.1 billion active accounts across 160 countries, according to data from DemandSage.

On Tuesday, UMG published an open letter titled, "Why we must call Time Out on TikTok”, in which they accuse TikTok of attempting to "bully" and "intimidate" them into “accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth”.

The music of Ariana Grande, Drake, and Harry Styles might be about to disappear from TikTok. Credit: AP

The letter said that TikTok accounts for only about 1% of UMG's total revenue - "an indication of how little TikTok compensates artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content".

"Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music," it continued.

"How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars.

"TikTok’s tactics are obvious: use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans."

UMG also touched on a lack of "no meaningful solutions" to the "tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform."

"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.'"

Only last week, complaints erupted across the internet over regulation of social media platforms and content generated by AI after explicit fake photographs of Taylor Swift were circulated online.

UMG is one of the industry's most dominant music companies, holding the rights to music by artists including Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, U2, Coldplay, Bob Dylan, and more.

Taylor Swift is yet to comment publicly on the explicit AI images that circulated of her online. Credit: AP

If UMG and TikTok fail to come to an agreement, all of these songs will be removed from the service as the deal expires on Wednesday, a UMG spokesperson said.

In a short response, TikTok said it is "sad and disappointing" that UMG "has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters".

In a statement, the social media platform 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."

TikTok appears to have come to agreements with similar music companies such as Sony and Warner Music.

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