Today (Feb. 1), Universal Music Group (UMG), which houses megastars like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo, officially removed its artists’ music from TikTok after its licensing agreement with the short-form video platform expired and the two companies failed to reach an agreement on artist royalties. TikTok users can no longer use UMG artists’ licensed songs in their videos.
UMG published an open letter to TikTok on Jan. 30 accusing the platform of underpaying its artists and allowing A.I.-generated songs that mimic the vocals of famous artists like Drake to thrive on the app. TikTok responded with a harsh statement alleging UMG has “put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”
According to TikTok, 88 percent of its users believe that music is essential to the platform’s experience. In order to work better with the major music labels, who are oftentimes at odds with TikTok, the social platform created the TikTok Commercial Music Library to house licensed music from labels like UMG for creators to use in their videos. But UMG said TikTok only accounts for only 1 percent of the music conglomerate’s revenue “despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content.”
Some sounds are still available to hear, but not for use. On Ariana Grande’s TikTok account, for example, the official version of her new single “Yes, And” can still be played. But when you click on the sound, a message pops up saying the “copyright owner hasn’t made the sound available in your country.” Many other sounds have disappeared completely, as in this Taylor Swift video and this Ice Spice video.
It’s unclear how much the actual user experience will shift without UMG music. Many licensed songs by UMG artists that become popular on TikTok also include concert footage, live renditions and snippets of their songs that may not be pulled. Remixes of UMG artist’s songs made by regular TikTok users like this one posted by Olivia Rodrigo are also popular on the platform and are often beloved as much as the original versions.