Universal Music Group is pulling its catalogue of music from TikTok.

Universal Music Group vs. TikTok: The AI Music Problem

3 min read

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This morning, in a massive blow to TikTok, Universal Music Group (“UMG”) announced that it will pull its entire music catalogue off the video-sharing platform.

This meansmillions of songs from some of the world’s top-selling artists will be gone from TikTok. This includes but is not limited to: Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, Bad Bunny, and so, so many more.

In a scathing letter to TikTok, UMG slammed the ByteDance company for behaving like a “bully”, responding with “intimidation” tactics during contract negotiations. The crux of UMG’s claims are: TikTok is not compensating artists fairly, and is lacklustre in addressing the overflow of AI-generated songs on the platform.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” UMG wrote.

TikTok feat. AI-generated music

Ask a chronically online Gen Z, and they’ll tell you all about viral sound clips on TikTok. They’re basically remixed sound snippets taken from anywhere from Mitski’s latest hit song, to a spicy quote from a contestant on a reality show.

Since 2022’s mainstreaming of AI-powered tools, TikTok has also seen a deluge of AI-generated songs by major artists created by anonymous users. They go viral almost instantly, and at times, some of these AI-generated songs gain more traction on TikTok compared to original versions (case in point: ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ by AI ‘Drake’ and ‘The Weeknd’).

Thus, UMG’s gripe with TikTok is that artists whose music serves as the original ‘backdrop’ for said AI-generated remixes aren’t getting compensated fairly – or at all.

A latest example would be a sound clip trend from Cillian Murphy’s fans: the trend uses a snippet from Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young And Beautiful’. However, the 9-second snippet is not attributed to Del Rey herself, but a TikTok user who happened to cut out that part of the song.

It is unclear if Del Rey – who is repped by Interscope Records whose parent company is Universal Music Group – is receiving royalties from the snippet.

Last year, indie K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty also shot to superstardom thanks to two TikTok remixes stemming from a single song, ‘Cupid’. One was a sped-up version of ‘Cupid’ which started a whole dance trend that lasted for months, and another was an AI-generated version of ‘Cupid’ sung by Ariana Grande.

“TikTok is allowing 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 – and then demanding a contractual right which would allow this content to massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI,” UMG criticised.

What now?

In the next 24 hours, expect to see some of your favourite songs vanish on TikTok. Sad news for the Swifties, mainly. In terms of how music will be created and distributed on the platform, some amateur producers may have to start actually creating their own music instead of remixing from the ‘Barbie’ soundtrack.

Here’s an explainer of how TikTok creators will be affected as well. Don’t worry though, it’s not the end of the world – Sony Music and Warner Music Group’s catalogues are still available for your perusal on the platform.