‘Cause Now We Got Bad Blood: The Battle Between TikTok and the Music Industry


On January 31, 2024, Universal Music Group (UMG), the record label for some of the world’s biggest acts, pulled its licensed music from TikTok, and millions of videos on TikTok went silent.[1] The music, once available for over one billion TikTok users globally to add short snippets to their content, was no more.[2] UMG is one of the largest music conglomerates in the world.[3] It owns record labels such as Republic, Capital, and Interscope Records.[4] Artists like Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Harry Styles, and Drake all fall under the UMG publishing purview.[5] Further, this TikTok ban also affects songwriters, as UMG took down music from songwriters signed to UMG publishing.[6] To illustrate the quantity of music pulled, if a song has ten songwriters, all from different publishing companies, but one is signed by UMG, the song must come down.[7]

In a press release on January 30, UMG explained that its contract with TikTok was set to expire the following day and that it had not agreed with TikTok on three main issues.[8] These issues included: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”[9] In some markets, music published by UMG accounts for over half of the music available on social media platforms.[10]

Over time, the battle between UMG and TikTok has become quite contentious. Over the past few years, artists and record labels have used TikTok as a promotional tactic to attempt to achieve virality.[11] However, once the music goes viral, artists and record labels receive little payout.[12] This battle between UMG and TikTok has been compared to the tense relationship between the music industry and YouTube over the past decade.[13] Both TikTok and YouTube operate under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).[14] DMCA states that if a user of an online service breaches copyright laws, the service is protected in certain situations.[15] The DMCA allows online service providers to implement a “notice-and-takedown” system, permitting copyright holders to inform the online service provider that users of the online service provider are infringing on their copyrights and request that the online service take the material down.[16] Because they fall under the DMCA, online service providers, such as YouTube and TikTok, can pay less in royalties compared to other websites because their content is user-generated.[17] As a result, UMG wants to contractually bind TikTok to pay higher royalties.[18]

Over the past few years, UMG and TikTok had a short-term arrangement where TikTok paid a “lump-sum minimum guaranteed payment.”[19] Since TikTok’s advertising revenue has increased by 400% since they last negotiated, UMG would like to form a long-term payment deal based on usage.[20] UMG is essentially making an example out of TikTok. If they UMG does not put their foot down now, it will set a dangerous precedent for negotiations when other social media platforms’ deals expire.[21] This is because UMG sees TikTok as dispensable. It believes that TikTok is just one of many short-form video platforms.[22] Alternatively, UMG can allow use of its artists’ music on other platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube, where it has agreed to fair compensation packages.[23] UMG has already moved promotional materials for its artists to the abovementioned platforms.[24]

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how UMG sets a precedent for contracts within the UMG ecosystem and the music industry as a whole. Until then, we must all become comfortable with the silence.

[1] Press Release, Universal Music Group, An Open Letter to the Artist and Songwriter Community, Why We Must Call Time Out on TikTok (Jan. 30, 2024), https://www.universalmusic.com/an-open-letter-to-the-artist-and-songwriter-community-why-we-must-call-time-out-on-tiktok/.

[2] Meghan Bobrowsky & Anne Steele, World’s Biggest Music Company Deploys the ‘Nuclear Option’ Against TikTok, Wall St. J., (Feb. 28, 2024, 12:01AM), https://www.wsj.com/business/media/universal-tiktok-music-dispute-62de2dda.

[3] Our Artists & Brands, Universal Music Grp., https://www.universalmusic.com/labels/ (last visited Feb. 28, 2024).

[4] Id.

[5] Our Artists & Writers, Universal Music Publ’g Grp., https://www.umusicpub.com/us/Artists.aspx (last visited Feb. 28, 2024).

[6] Meghan Bobrowsky and Anne Steele, World’s Biggest Music Company Deploys the ‘Nuclear Option’ Against TikTok, Wall St. J., (Feb. 28, 2024, 12:01AM), https://www.wsj.com/business/media/universal-tiktok-music-dispute-62de2dda.

[7] Id.

[8] Press Release, supra note 1.

[9] Id.

[10] Robert Levine, Universal Music’s War on TikTok: Behind the Battle Plan, Billboard Pro, (Feb. 5, 2024), https://www.billboard.com/pro/universal-music-tiktok-feud-what-it-means-music-industry/.

[11] Dan Whateley, How TikTok is Changing and Transforming the Music Industry, Bus. Insider, (Dec. 22, 2023, 11:18 AM), https://www.businessinsider.com/how-tiktok-is-changing-music-industry.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, U.S. Copyright Off., https://www.copyright.gov/dmca/ (last visited Feb. 28, 2024).

[16] Id.

[17] Levine, supra note 9.

[18] Id.

[19] Bobrowsky & Steele, supra note 5.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.


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Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law