The spat between Universal Music Group (UMG) and TikTok just got very real. After previously warning that it could pull all music created by its huge roster of artists from the social media site, UMG have now made that threat a reality.
Songs across UMG’s catalog from scores of artists including Lana Del Rey, The 1975, The Weeknd and Taylor Swift have begun vanishing from the social media platform. It means that users can no longer soundtrack their videos with music by their favorite UMG artists: searches are returning “no results” messages, and existing videos have been muted, with “this sound is currently unavailable” tags appearing instead. Earlier this year, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 song “Murder on the Dancefloor” returned to the U.K. Top 10 after becoming a viral hit on TikTok.
The blanket ban also extends to UMG artists themselves, meaning that they can no longer use the platform to post their own music.
The actions come after increasingly heated negotiations between the music giant and TikTok over the licensing of its songs. On January 30 those talks broke down apparently irreparably, culminating in an open letter by UMG in which it accused the social media site of trying to “bully” Universal into accepting a new deal that would see it receive a “fraction” of the rate other social media sites pay for access to its huge catalog.
“TikTok proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay,” the letter said. “Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music.”
UMG also accused TikTok of using “its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and short-changes artists and songwriters as well as their fans.”
In response, TikTok posted an equally-uncompromising statement of their own, writing: “It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” adding, “Clearly, Universal's self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans.”
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But if talk is cheap, actions have consequences – and few music fans seem to be happy with UMG’s decision to carry through with their threat. After songs began to be muted, including official videos from the artists themselves, many reacted furiously.
Taylor Swift fan account The Eras Tour, which boasts nearly half a million followers on X (formerly Twitter) posted: “All Taylor Swift’s music, along with all other artists under UMG, has officially been removed from TikTok,” with one reply simply noting: “TikTok will collapse without it.”
That sentiment was echoed by another user, who wrote, somewhat ominously: “UMG is about to find out how much music charts rely on tiktok”.
It is not only the fans of UMG’s big names (or even those who just want to post themselves dancing to “Murder on the Dancefloor”) who are concerned – some believe that the blanket ban on Universal’s music will deny emerging artists a valuable platform for sharing their work.
Noah Kahan, whose single “Stick Season” has spent the last four weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. charts, posted a video on TikTok addressing the issue… and he didn’t exactly sound optimistic about the implications of the ban.
“So like you I read the news about the UMG catalog being taken off TikTok, so my songs aren’t going to be on there any more,” he said. “I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok any more. But luckily I’m not a TikTok artist, right?”
He ends the short video: “I’ll probably be ok, right? I’ll land on my feet, right? Right?”
It remains to be seen if UMG and TikTok can resolve the issue… or if this will become a war in which, ultimately, lovers of music lose most.