TikToks Go Silent as Major Record Label Pulls All Its Music

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It’s official: major music label Universal Music Group has yanked its catalogs from TikTok, including the works of some of the biggest names in pop music, such as Taylor Swift, Drake, and Olivia Rodrigo.

Earlier this week, the label announced in a statement that it had chosen to “call time out on TikTok” to pressure the social network for better rules surrounding the use of artificial intelligence, online safety, and compensation for artists.

The label’s contract with TikTok also expired over Wednesday night.

“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 one percent of our total revenue,” the statement reads.

It also notably called out AI on the platform, saying TikTok hadn’t done enough to protect “human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

A search on the platform shows that Taylor Swift’s official account no longer lists any of her songs. The music tab has simply been replaced by a message that reads: “This music is currently unavailable.”

As The Verge points out, any existing TikToks that use UMG music will be muted. Needless to say, that’s a huge number of user-submitted videos.

It’s a notable flap, considering the UMG’s considerable influence in the industry, which will likely dial up a huge amount of pressure on TikTok’s owner ByteDance.

It’s also a significant new chapter in the use of generative AI online, with record labels already fighting off songs that used deepfaked voices of artists. Last year, UMG furiously went after several popular songs that included the AI-generated vocals of Aubrey “Drake” Graham and Abel Makkonen “the Weeknd” Tesfaye.

The news also comes less than a week after AI-generated porn images of Taylor Swift flooded social media. The trend got so much media attention that even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella chimed in earlier this week, admitting that the company hadn’t done enough to ensure its own AI tool couldn’t be abused.

In response to UMG’s latest action, TikTok said it found the decision “sad and disappointing,” accusing the label of putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

“Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans,” the statement reads.

It’s a thorny issue. Even before the advent of powerful AI tools, music artist compensation has long been a source of contention. Royalties on streaming services have been infamously meager, making it incredibly difficult for smaller artists to survive.

But is UMG shutting itself off from TikTok, a music-focused platform that has over a billion global monthly active users, really the answer? Is the label fighting the inevitable or is it truly protecting its artists from being taken advantage of in the form of AI-generated dupes?

It’s a massive bet, and only time will tell if it’ll pay off.

More on the saga: TikTok Facing Huge Crisis as It Loses Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake Over Its AI Features

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