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Universal Music Publishing Group Focuses on TikTok’s ‘Harmful’ Approach to AI in Letter to Songwriters

By Michael Mar 1, 2024

Just days after the Universal Music Group’s publishing catalog began coming down from TikTok, Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) released a new statement stressing its concerns about artificial intelligence and online safety on the short-form video app. The company stated these are “equally” important issues to TikTok’s lack of “fair compensation” to songwriters.

UMPG also acknowledged in its new statement that “the disruption is difficult for some of [its songwriters]” but says leaving the TikTok app is “critical for the sustained future value, safety and health of the entire music ecosystem.”

At the end of January, UMG announced in a letter to its artists and songwriters that it would be allowing its license with TikTok to expire, saying that TikTok refused to pay the “fair value” of music and no deal could be reached. (Tiktok fired back with its own statement, hours later, saying UMG’s decision was motivated by “greed.”) Within days, UMG tracks were removed from Tiktok en masse, including the catalogs of superstars Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Drake, BTS and more who are signed to UMG record labels. In the letter, the company noted that these takedowns would also include its publishing arm, UMPG, but the publishing-related removals did not begin until Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Now, any song, even if it was released by a non-UMG record label, is subject to takedown on TikTok if even one UMPG-signed songwriter was involved in its creation. Because UMPG is the second largest publisher in the world, these publishing takedowns were wide reaching, impacting almost every record label in one way or another.

In response to the publishing takedowns, TikTok said in a statement on Wednesday: “We are in the process of carrying out Universal Music Group’s requirement to remove all songs that have been written (or co-written) by a songwriter signed to Universal Music Publishing Group, based on information they have provided. Their actions not only affect the songwriters and artists that they represent, but now also impact many artists and songwriters not signed to Universal. We remain committed to reaching an equitable agreement with Universal Music Group. In the meantime, music lovers can continue to enjoy, discover and share millions of tracks from artists, songwriters and labels on TikTok, and we will continue to connect all artists – including those whose music is not currently available on our platform – with their fans.”

Read UMPG’s new statement to its songwriters below in full:

TikTok is removing UMPG songs because there is no license in place. As you may have heard, to-date, they have not agreed to recognize the fair value of your songs, which so many other digital partners around the world have done.

As we previously addressed in our open letter, in addition to fair compensation for your songs, the negotiations have also focused on two other critical and equally important issues: protecting you, human artists and songwriters, from the harmful effects of AI; and online safety for TikTok’s users, including your fans which include young children.

TikTok’s intentions with respect to AI are increasingly apparent. While refusing to respond to our concerns about AI depriving songwriters from fair compensation, or provide assurances that they will not train their AI models on your songs, recent media reports reveal “TikTok and ByteDance leaders have long wanted to move the app beyond music.” Reflecting on our open letter, other commentators have noted where this distancing from the music industry could lead, fueled by AI: “TikTok has an incentive to push the use of these AI recordings rather than the copyrighted and licensed recordings.”

Every indication is that they simply do not value your music.

We understand the disruption is difficult for some of you and your careers, and we are sensitive to how this may affect you around the world. We recognize that this might be uncomfortable at the moment. But it is critical for the sustained future value, safety and health of the entire music ecosystem, including all music fans.

As always, UMPG will only support partners that value songwriters, artists and your songs.  We have a long history of successfully fighting for our songwriters and will continue to do so. You should expect nothing less from us.

By Michael

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