The world’s most powerful record label has gone to corporate war with the globe’s fastest-growing social media powerhouse. Universal Media Group has taken its evidently painful boardroom wrangling with a social media behemoth overground, publishing an incendiary open letter, titled “Why we must call time on TikTok”.
UMG, the biggest music company in the world, has accused TikTok of trying to “bully” and “intimidate” it into “accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth”.
UMG's open letter claims TikTok is attempting to strongarm it into "accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth
UMG is not an obvious underdog in any negotiation. The company controls the lucrative output of the world’s most bankable acts, including The Beatles, Harry Styles and Queen Of All She Surveys Taylor Swift. They also have, amongst many, many other smashes, current viral sensation Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor in their portfolio.
And given that other UMG stars include Billie Eilish, U2, Drake, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Sting, The Weeknd, Alicia Keys, Drake, Ariana Grande, U2, Coldplay, Elton John, Bob Dylan and Post Malone, as well as countless others, there’s a fair chance they have a few more tunes up their sleeve.
But now, UMG has said that its entire catalogue will be pulled from TikTok’s library, which allows users to soundtrack clips to licensed music, today (Wednesday 31 Jan).
The music giant’s open letter claims that TikTok is attempting to strongarm it into "accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth" and that during negotiations - which don’t appear to have gone terribly well - TikTok had “proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay”.
"TikTok’s tactics are obvious;" continues the letter, "use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us."
Further, UMG said TikTok had allowed “the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings” and “sponsoring artist replacement by AI", making the removal of copyright material from the platform a “monumentally cumbersome and inefficient process which equates to the digital equivalent of Whack-a-Mole.”
In response, TikTok, owned by Chinese firm Bytedance, hasn’t held back either: “Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent,” its response reads.
"Clearly, Universal's self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans."
So, is this a good old-fashioned game of hardball, to be followed swiftly by glowing corporate deal news? Time, and not much of it, will tell.