Publishing News

Downtown, Hipgnosis And NMPA rally behind Universal Music Group in its fight with TikTok

Feb 3, 2024

Universal Music Group‘s dispute with TikTok – primarily over the amount of money the video service pays for music licensing – continues to be the talk of Grammy Week. Now multiple other significant music companies are throwing their weight behind UMG’s mission.

Yesterday (February 1), Primary Wave publicly backed Universal’s position, which has seen UMG decline to agree terms with TikTok over a new licensing agreement. As a result, recordings represented by UMG have already started to become unavailable in TikTok’s pre-cleared music library.

(Universal’s music publishing library – which spans to approximately 4 million songs – is expected to become fully unlicensed on TikTok at the end of February, due to a 30-day grace period in UMPG’s agreement with the platform.)

Primary Wave represents music written by icons including Bob Marley, Stevie Nicks, Smokey Robinson, Whitney Houston, Burt Bacharach, and Prince. It said in a statement: “As the world’s leading independent publisher of iconic and legendary music, we applaud Universal Music Group for standing up to TikTok and its blatant disregard for artists and songwriters. The notion that TikTok would try to rationalize willfully underpaying artists because, the platform says, it offers artists ‘promotion’ is a decades-old canard that has no place in any modern music business.

“Artists and songwriters need to be compensated appropriately for their work and protected from unethical uses of AI.  Period.  We’re proud to stand alongside UMG and the artist advocates that have called upon TikTok to appropriately pay and protect the songwriters and artists who are critical to the growth and cultural relevance of the platform.”

More significant music firms have publicly backed UMG’s position.

Andrew Bergman is CEO of Downtown Music Holdings, which – across publishing administration, recorded music distribution, neighboring rights, and other services – represents more than 5,000 business clients and over 4 million individual creators. As a result, Downtown claims to be “the largest pure-play service provider in the global music industry”. (One key example: Downtown now administers the publishing catalog of Spirit Music Group, which owns over 100,000 songs.)

In a statement issued to MBW in reaction to the Universal/TikTok news, Bergman said: “We strive at Downtown to ensure that artists, songwriters, and rights holders are equitably compensated for their creative endeavors. “Over the last several years, despite the meteoric success of the platform, this has not been the case with TikTok. It’s time to recalibrate the partnership between the music industry and TikTok to re-balance the ledger.”

Elsewhere, the National Music Publishers Association has also reacted to UMG’s dispute with TikTok – in particular the ByteDance platform’s claim that it offers “powerful support” to artists by serving “as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent”.

NMPA President/CEO David Israelite said today: “Music is a driving force behind TikTok’s success and it is extremely unfortunate that TikTok does not seem to value the music creators that fuel its business. We believe songwriters should be valued and compensated fairly, and we believe artificial intelligence should never be used to dilute the value of human creativity. “We have seen other social-media platforms make the mistake of claiming promotion should substitute for fair compensation. It’s a losing argument and it is wrong.”

(The NMPA has its own interesting history with TikTok, of course. The org signed a multi-year licensing agreement, on behalf of its members, with TikTok/ByteDance, after publicly threatening to sue the platform for copyright infringement.)

The music biz’s big news from earlier today Merck Mercuriadis is moving up to Chairman at Hipgnosis Songs Funds Song Management, and is being succeeded as CEO at the company by Ben Katovsky.

Following that announcement, MBW spoke to Mercuriadis, who made clear in an interview – which will be published on MBW  in the coming days – that his “commitment to Hipgnosis Song Management has never been stronger”.

But we also obviously had to ask him for his take on the story of the week: UMG vs. TikTok.

Mercuriadis said: “TikTok has proven itself to be a great catalyst for the consumption of music. Look at Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, on which Hipgnosis is delighted and privileged to represent Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie [songwriting cuts]. Rumours has been a top-selling album in recent years, and TikTok has had a huge role to play in that story.

“But Hipgnosis has, since the beginning, been a massive advocate for the fact that we need to change where the songwriter sits in the economic equation. Should TikTok be paying higher rates? Absolutely. Every digital music and social media service has to recognize the value of music.

TikTok has the ability to be a force for good in the consumption of music. Universal has done the right thing here, from the perspective of making sure that the ‘900 pound gorilla’ of our business is setting a tone that is not only in the best interest of music rights-owners, but songwriters specifically.”Music Business Worldwide