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”Deep Fakes & Low Rates”: What UMG’s open letter to TikTok says about TikTok.

As a knight in shining regalia, Bytedance’s TikTok has been compared by many, especially when putting into context how the short form video streaming platform has quickly become a strong decision maker in the conversation of what music gets to trend and ascend to the top of the charts, revolutionizing the global music ecosystem in the process, and functioning as an ardent remuneration platform for creatives at large.

However, not everyone is keen to share this inclination about TikTok, at least not recently.

In recent affairs that took the media by storm, giant music corporation Universal Music Group announced that the music company will be cutting licensing ties with TikTok, operational as of
31st of January 2024 (expiry date of current contract).

The announcement implied that without the contract renewal, TikTok and Tik Tok music services will cease to have a license to make use of any copyrighted content belonging to UMG on its platform and will therefore have no access to UMG’s catalog.

The music company, which is also notably the largest music rightsholder in the World, and home to a myriad of high profile super stars like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Drake, Ariana Grande and more, resolved to not continue in its contractual agreement with TikTok due to an array of reasons shared in an official letter to the music community.

According to the letter, Tiktok’s refusal to adhere to these three focal points was what broke the urcheon’s back: “Appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human
artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users”.

In the letter, TikTok’s payout policy towards UMG’s artists and songwriters who contribute a considerable churn of engaging content on the platform was up for scrutiny as UMG says TikTok
isn’t striking a fair bargain, and leans on to state: “Today, as an indication of how little TikTok compensates artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising
advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content, TikTok accounts for only about 1% of our total revenue”.

Although TikTok has since rebutted UMG’s statements in a statement of their own that reads: “It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests
of their artists and songwriters”, it didn’t specifically address the accusations of strategic bullying laid against it by UMG; “How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of
certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars”.

Also, TikTok never addressed the claims of “flooding” its timeline with A.I generated music contents; a malignant threat posed to the existence of human creativity. In the letter, UMG stated that TikTok was “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”.

Tiktok’s shortage of vim in its counter response to the allegations made by UMG in the open letter leaves for a puzzled reserve; maybe TikTok is just not bothered about losing a vast catalog such as UMG’s, or rather, its influence in the global market might be pushing it towards premature hubris.

Bottom line, Universal Music Group’s open letter which highlights the reasons for license termination between the music giant and TikTok or any of its affiliated services is either an attempt at fostering corporate greed, or a genuine call for concern by fans and industry

Whichever side you pick, it doesn’t matter, if it’s not the artist’s side; the actual creator of the craft.

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