More UMG-Controlled Songs Are Coming Down From TikTok

TikTok and Universal Music Group’s war escalated this week as songs written by Universal Music Publishing Group’s songwriters have started getting removed from the short-form video platform.

The move comes nearly a month after UMG‘s recorded catalog came down from TikTok after the record company announced that it failed to reach a new licensing agreement with the platform over its music. As of Tuesday, songs from Bad Bunny, Harry Styles and SZA, among others, are no longer appearing in searches and more videos are now silent.

When UMG announced that it didn’t reach a new agreement with TikTok at the end of January, the company specified that the move was for both its record labels and publishing arm UMPG. The initial takedown earlier this month only impacted tracks from recording artists signed to UMG labels such as Interscope, Republic or Def Jam.

The publishing company’s catalog removal is much wider-reaching and affects music from other record labels. This is because every piece of music has two copyrights: one for a song’s specific recording (controlled by labels), and a second one for a song’s lyrics and composition (controlled by a music publisher). Songwriters can write songs for artists across many labels, so even a record from Sony or Warner could be subject to removal if a UMPG writer wrote or co-wrote the song.

And some artists may not have a record deal with UMG, but they do have a publishing deal with UMPG. Harry Styles, Steve Lacy and SZA, for example, are all signed to Sony-owned Columbia and RCA, respectively, but UMPG is their publisher, meaning popular TikTok tracks like “As It Was,” “Bad Habit” and “Kill Bill” are now off. Bad Bunny is signed to the independent label Rimas but has a pub deal with UMPG as well, so his music is also coming down.

Reps for UMG and TikTok didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. In UMG’s open letter earlier this month, the company cited low payments, concerns on AI use and concerns for TikTok users’ safety as the largest concerns getting in the way of a licensing deal. UMG said TikTok represents about 1 percent of the record company’s revenue.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” the company said in its letter. TikTok itself said UMG was putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” further claiming that UMG’s “narrative” was “false.”

While fellow “big three” music companies Sony and Warner have both signed deals with TikTok, they’re now inadvertently in the crossfire when their artists are signed with UMPG, or when they record a song written by another writer who is. Sony declined to comment on the matter, while a rep for WMG didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Artists themselves have been split on the fight. Some have agreed that TikTok needs to pay more given how significant a role music plays on the app. Others have never viewed TikTok as a money-making tool but rather a promotional device, or they voiced frustration that the label didn’t consult its artists before pulling their music and taking away their most important tool to share their songs.


As UMG artist Cody Fry — who was on the verge of a viral TikTok morning when his music got pulled —told Rolling Stone this month: “The bummer is that it feels like UMG and TikTok are both going to be fine. Meanwhile, the actual artists on the ground are the ones that are going to take the hits for this.”

A month into the companies’ dispute, it’s still difficult to quantify the fallout beyond muted tracks on the platform. As the situation continues to develop, the key metric for Universal will be if its streams dip or if fewer hits break through. For TikTok, the figure will be if usage on the app goes down if users get frustrated with less music available.

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