UMG vs. TikTok. Universal Music Group, starting late last year has been in major push to maximize profits across the board. First, there was their push for Artist-Centric payouts, a move that saw millions of dollars ripped away from starving artists and given to artists making the most. Now, Universal Music Group’s catalog is being removed from TikTok. Why? Because Universal Music Group asked TikTok for more money, and TikTok said no. Does Universal Music Group need more money? No. So why do they want TikTok to pay more? Because Universal Music Group believes TikTok can afford to pay more. Does TikTok have to pay more? No. Here’s why.
Safe Harbor laws protect TikTok from being liable for infringing content on their platform as long as they are unaware that the infringing content exists. As addressed in Universal Music Group’s Open Letter, TikTok doesn’t have a policing system like Content ID for their platform. This puts Rights Holders in a challenging position. They have to take on the impossible task of finding every individual infringing piece of content and reporting it to TikTok to be removed. Effectively, Universal Music Group’s catalog will exist on TikTok no matter if they consent to it or not.
Due to Safe Harbor rules and the lack of Content ID, TikTok does not have to comply with Universal Music Group to come to terms on a new licensing agreement to be able to leverage its catalog. it’s pretty much a courtesy. Any TikTok user who wants to use any song from Universal Music Group’s catalog will find a way to use it before they stop using TikTok.
Universal Musical removing its catalog from TikTok does not harm TikTok and it only impacts Universal Music Group and its artists to the extent that it allows it to. if somebody posts a piece of content to TikTok that is unauthorized, and that content explodes with the potential to skyrocket one of their songs to the top of the charts, would Universal Music Group pull that song from TikTok? How would their artists respond if they did? Will artists who own the rights to their material grant TikTok the licenses themselves? There are a lot of variables that will unravel as time goes on.
The reality of the situation is that either Universal Music Group will bow down or pretend that they’ve drawn a line in the sand and stuck to it to save face. Unauthorized content using tracks from their catalog may be selectively removed and allowed based on the level of impact the content will have on the success of an artist. If a song is being used and it’s not doing much for the artist, they’ll report it and have it removed. If a song is being used and has the potential to catapult the artist, they’ll ignore it until they no longer need it. In any event, TikTok wins.
How does this impact indie artists? It’s an opportunity because there will be less competition. TikTok offers its users an Audio Library. If someone wants to say “I Love You” to a significant other, they go to the audio library and search for a song they know that says “I Love You” If they can’t find it, they use something else. Whatever music remains in the library has the potential to be that “something else” and get the free promotion Universal Music Group has decided to surrender.