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TikTok removes music from UMG artists, including Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift

TikTok says it has removed all music by artists licensed to Universal Music Group, including Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake and Olivia Rodrigo.

"We started the removal late last night Pacific Time, Jan 31st, as we approached the deadline of the [UMG/TikTok] license expiration," a TikTok spokesperson told NPR in an email.

In addition to removal of music, "videos containing music licensed by Universal have been muted."

In an open letter, UMG argued, among other things, that TikTok wasn't compensating its artists fairly and allowed the platform "to be flooded with AI-generated recordings—as well as developing tools to enable, promote and encourage AI music creation on the platform itself." You can read UMG's full letter here.

As UMG points out, TikTok's colossal success "has been built in large part on the music created" by artists and songwriters. In turn, emerging artists have used the platform to launch their careers.

At least one UMG artist isn't happy his songs have been removed. In a video posted to the platform, Grammy nominee Noah Kahan says, "I won't be able to promote my music on TikTok anymore. But luckily I'm not a TikTok artist, right?"

Kahan is signed to Republic Records, a subsidiary of UMG, but credits TikTok with his success. Fans on the platform turned excerpts of his songs into viral sensations. Kahan is nominated in the Best New Artist category at this year's Grammys.

Leading up to Jan. 31, when their contract expired, negotiations between social media giant TikTok and the world's largest music company had intensified as they worked to hammer out a new one, Tatiana Cirisano, a music industry analyst at Midia Research told NPR.

"UMG is kind of taking the nuclear option of removing all their music and trying to prove ... that TikTok couldn't exist if it didn't have their catalog," she said.

Early Wednesday morning, UMG released what it called "An Open Letter to the Artist And Songwriter Community – Why We Must Call Time Out On TikTok." The letter, one suspects, is actually for music fans and tech watchdogs as well.

"In our contract renewal discussions, we have been pressing them on three critical issues," the letter says of TikTok, noting the issues include protection against AI-generated recordings, online safety issues for users and higher compensation for its artists and songwriters.

"With respect to the issue of artist and songwriter compensation," the letter continues, "TikTok proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay. Today, as 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, TikTok accounts for only about 1% of our total revenue. Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music."

Compensation is the big sticking point here, Cirisano said. "I would also point out that this is probably going to do more for Universal Music Group as a company than it is for any of their individual artists and songwriters," she says.

In a statement on social media, TikTok accused UMG of promoting "false narratives and rhetoric" and of putting "greed above the interests of their artist and songwriter."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.