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UMG vs TikTok: What it Means for Artists

The recent feud between industry titans Universal Music Group and TikTok has sent shockwaves through the artistic community. And with talk of other industry parties joining UMG’s boycott of the platform, this ongoing issue has sparked further conversations around royalty distribution & copyright management. Particularly, in this case, as it pertains to the growth of new technology & its increased influence on the way that we write, produce & release music.


The subject of artist remuneration has been a “hot topic” since the days of Napster; an issue which was at the forefront of UMG’s boycott, accusing TikTok of wanting a “music-based business, without paying fair value for the music”. So, how exactly does this affect artists? Dive into this blog to learn more about UMG vs TikTok, through the lens of the artistic community responsible for creating the songs which keeps the music ecosystem alive and thriving.


A microphone in a music studio

UMG vs TikTok: Some Background

TikTok has become inconceivably integral to the music industry over the last 5 years, and this was why it was such a surprise when, as widely reported, Universal Music Group withdrew its entire catalog from TikTok. The rationale behind this decision - as conveyed in an open letter - sheds a little more light on the move, described as an effort "to help our artists and songwriters attain their greatest creative and commercial potential" (read the full letter here).


The open letter described misalignments between the two companies over three subjects:


  • Artist compensation; TikTok proposed paying “a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay”.

  • Control over AI-generated music, as it pertains to copyright infringement on musical IP. UMG not only suggested that TikTok allows AI-generated music to flood its platform, but also that it facilitates the creation of such content through integrated technologies & tools.

  • TikTok’s approach, or alleged lack thereof, at censoring & controlling harmful content on its platform.


It’s clear, then, that this feud isn’t going to be resolved overnight, nor should it be until the two influential entities are on the same page. What's important in the meantime, is the consideration of the artists behind the music, who find themselves caught in the crossfire.


The Impact on the Music Industry

As mentioned, TikTok’s innovative platform and intelligent algorithms made it a cornerstone for artists to connect with global audiences. The idea of a “TikTok campaign” quickly went from an unimportant facet of music promotion, to a non-negotiable arm of every single label’s marketing arsenal. Artists would harness the platform to tease unreleased music & create inventive challenges to connect with their audiences, constantly in chase of a “viral hit” which held (and still holds) the potential to drive hundreds of millions of streams to DSPs. Today, there is no question; TikTok is integral to the music industry and, as such, major labels had seemingly harmonious relationships with the platform, implementing it in their strategy on a daily basis.


However, TikTok does not exist without its problems. The platform has been repeatedly accused of allegedly indolent attitudes to users’ safety & privacy, both from individual creators but also at governmental level. And its dedication to fostering creativity was often put into question by creators, as a result of its limited revenue splits & lack of sufficient payouts. 


Most notably to the music industry, perhaps, and echoed by Universal, was TikTok’s allowance (and alleged facilitation) of harmful AI-generated content on its platform, which remains rife with “deep fake” music, as well as modified audio & other infringements on an artist’s copyright. These forms of copyright infringement are new & elusive in nature, making it harder for existing tracking systems to identify the original creator/creation and compensate them fairly for their original contribution. This plays into the already-burgeoning issue around unclaimed revenues, of which there are roughly $250 million every single year. 


The Future for UMG vs TikTok & Affected Artists

The feud with UMG has disrupted a previously-symbiotic relationship, serving as a poignant reminder that the heartbeat of the music industry lies in the artists who pour their passion into their craft. Many emerging artists no longer have holistic access to the promotional vehicle they could once rely on, and having to return to the drawing board to look for new & increasingly creative ways to share their music with the wider world is a draining prospect. Stakeholders will continue to work towards a harmonious resolution that not only addresses corporate concerns but also ensures that the music continues to resonate with the hearts and souls of its listeners.


This dispute also underscores the need for a resolution that prioritizes an accurate, fair detection and collection of music copyright and, in the alleged absence of an asserted effort from the platform to correct this issue, counteractive technology became more of a necessity for rights holders.


This was what compelled us to launch CoverNet, an AI-powered scanning service that can offer rights holders unprecedented access over uses of their copyright online. Capable of detecting even the most obscure, AI-generated infringements, CoverNet is poised to become a staple for every single rights holder in the world. You can learn more about CoverNet here.

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