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Universal Music's artistes to return to TikTok with new licensing pact

Universal Music's artistes to return to TikTok with new licensing pact
As licensing negotiations resumed between Universal Music Group and TikTok in recent weeks, AI remained a major point of contention. PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTA MONICA, California — Universal Music Group (UMG) and TikTok said on May 2 that they had reached a new licencing agreement that will restore the label's songs and artistes to the social media platform as well as give musicians more protections from artificial intelligence (AI).

TikTok began removing UMG's content from its app after their licencing deal expired in January and the two sides failed to reach agreement on royalties, AI and online safety for TikTok users.

Describing their new pact as a multi-dimensional deal, the companies said they were working "expeditiously" to return music by UMG's artistes to TikTok, and also said they would team up to realise new monetisation opportunities from TikTok's growing e-commerce capabilities.

They will "work together on campaigns supporting UMG's artistes across genres and territories globally", the two firms said in a joint statement.

TikTok is a valuable marketing and promotional tool for the music industry. The short-video app is where 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States most commonly discover music, ahead of YouTube and music streaming services such as Spotify, according to Midia Research.

"Roughly a quarter of US consumers say they listen to songs they have heard on TikTok," said Ms Tatiana Cirisano, Midia's senior music industry analyst.

However, UMG claimed its artistes and songwriters are paid just a fraction of what it receives from other major social media platforms.

The music label said TikTok accounted for one per cent of its annual revenue or about US$110 million (S$149.6 million) in 2023. YouTube, by contrast, paid the music industry US$1.8 billion from user-generated content in the 12 months ending in June 2022, according to Midia.

In a move that may well have eroded UMG's bargaining power, Taylor Swift — one of its biggest acts — allowed a selection of her songs to return to TikTok as she promoted her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department.

Swift owns the copyrights to her recordings through her 2018 deal with UMG and can control where her songs are available, according to the Financial Times.

As licencing negotiations resumed in recent weeks, AI remained a major point of contention. UMG has claimed TikTok is "flooded" with AI-generated recordings, including songs that users create with the help of TikTok's AI songwriting tools.

Under the deal on May 2, TikTok and UMG said that they would work together to ensure AI development across the music industry will protect human artistry and the economics that flows to those artistes and songwriters.

"TikTok is also committed to working with UMG to remove unauthorised AI-generated music from the platform, as well as (developing) tools to improve artiste and songwriter attribution," the statement said.

Concerns about AI have grown in the creative community.

In April, a non-profit group called the Artist Rights Alliance published an open letter urging the responsible use of the technology. The group of more than 200 musicians and songwriters called on technology companies and digital music services to pledge not to deploy AI in a way that would "undermine or replace the human artistry of songwriters and artistes or deny us fair compensation for our work".

The deal comes amid questions over TikTok's long-term future in the US President Joe Biden signed legislation last week that gives TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance 270 days to sell its US assets. TikTok has vowed to file a suit to challenge the legislation, which it calls a ban.

More than 170 million Americans use its video service, according to TikTok. Globally, it has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, according to research firm Statista. 

ALSO READ: TikTok and Universal will stage reunion tour soon

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