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TikTok vs. UMG

By: Josey Spiers 

Nothing puts a dent in mindlessly scrolling on TikTok than finding the crème de le crème of Satoru Gojo edits and hearing “Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod instead of “Daddy’s Home” by Usher. The latter song was officially removed by TikTok due to production association with music company, Universal Music Group (UMG), and these relations have resulted in many edits, posts, and artist song endorsements being silenced or replaced with copyright-free music. When the sound is removed from videos, it stamps down viewing numbers since they are not on the For You Page (FYP) circulation anymore. This leads to difficulty in trying to qualify videos for the TikTok Creator Fund, which many artists, content creators, and small businesses rely on for social media revenue. 

UMG is the largest of three major music conglomerates that control the global music industry, and began a public feud with TikTok nearing the ending of a licensing contract between the two in January 2024, claiming “unfair payout to artists” and “AI-generated music”. However, UMG is a subsidiary of Disney and has made similar political statements aligned with company values, especially regarding silencing specific content on TikTok. Disney has been behind movements to ban TikTok from the United States altogether for not restricting platform content. So one can wonder if the spontaneous silencing of music on a global music-based content app goes deeper than claimed contracting issues. 

On the other hand, AI-generated music poses a real threat to the artistry market by allowing companies to not provide fair compensation to independent emerging artists by having free alternatives. Yet artists have spoken out against UMG for unfair compensation, and sources say that smaller indie artists would suffer immensely if UMG were to win the negotiation battle. UMG makes an average of $10 million a year from TikTok counting for just 1 percent of revenue, yet the average salary under contract is $54,000. That’s substantially below the national average already, so why are they choosing to renegotiate with TikTok now especially when many small artists like Conan Gray, Olivia Rodrigo, and PeachPRC became stars from TikTok and made money without a record company? Additionally, artists who write songs for other artists like Beyoncé, Harry Styles, and SZA have had their work silenced for any credit received. The royalty model UMG is negotiating for would boost already popular artists with annual pay raises, unlike the TikTok algorithm that shows more popular content on new FYP and customized usually more underground content for curated FYP. More bizarrely, UMG is continuing to require artist self-promotion on TikTok even if the sound will be removed for being owned by UMG. Is this an AI-generated issue, corporate greed, or a more convoluted political issue?

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