Universal artists to return to TikTok as dispute comes to an end

By John Mercury May 3, 2024

Universal Music and TikTok have ended a dispute over royalties after the label pulled millions of songs from the social media platform.

The new licensing agreement means songs by some of the biggest artists in the world, including Drake, Adele and Billie Eilish will return to the site for use within the next two weeks.

TikTok, a short video app, is a valuable marketing and promotional tool for music stars. But in January, Universal claimed it paid artists and songwriters “a fraction” of the rate offered by similar social media platforms, and announced it was pulling its catalogue.

Billie Eilish at the 2024 Oscars. Pic: Reuters
Billie Eilish is also among Universal’s artists. Pic: Reuters

Universal is the biggest music label in the world and also looks after Taylor Swift – who allowed a selection of her songs to return to TikTok as she promoted her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, in April. Swift owns the copyrights to her recordings through her 2018 deal with Universal and can control where her songs are available, according to the Financial Times.

The companies now say they have come to “a new multi-dimensional” licensing agreement that will deliver “significant industry-leading benefits” for Universal’s artists and labels.

In a joint statement, TikTok said it would continue to invest resources into “building artist-centric tools” and work on strengthening online safety protections for artists and their fans.

The AI issue

Pic: AP
Drake, another Universal artist, has previously had his voice cloned for AI tracks. Pic: AP

The agreement means all videos that had been muted will be unmuted. It comes just over three months since Universal posted an open letter criticising TikTok, calling for higher payments for artists and songwriters, protection from the “harmful effects” of AI, and online safety.

In their joint statement, the companies now say they will work together to ensure AI development across the industry “will protect human artistry and the economics that flow to those artists and songwriters”.

They will also work to remove unauthorised AI-generated music from the platform, as well as on tools to improve artist and songwriter attribution, the statement says.

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Universal chairman and chief executive Sir Lucian Grainge said the “new chapter” focuses “on the value of music, the primacy of human artistry and the welfare of the creative community”, while TikTok chief executive Shou Chew added: “Music is an integral part of the TikTok ecosystem, and we are pleased to have found a path forward with Universal Music Group.”

Concerns about AI have grown in the creative community. In April last year, a song featuring the cloned voices of Drake and The Weeknd was removed from streaming sites after going viral.

On Tuesday, British singer-songwriter and producer FKA Twigs told a US Senate hearing how she had created her own digital clone – but condemned unauthorised use of her voice and image.

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On Wednesday, a poll by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Music found that 83% of UK adults agree that a music artist’s creative “personality” should be protected in law against AI copies and 77% believe it amounts to theft when generated music fails to acknowledge the creator of the original.

In April, more than 200 artists signed an open letter objecting to the “predatory” use of AI to “steal professional artists’ voices and likenesses”.


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