Universal Music Artists Will Return to TikTok

TikTok and Universal Music Group have reached a new licensing deal, ending a three-month stalemate that had blocked songs from some of pop’s biggest stars from the influential social media platform.

In a joint announcement early Thursday, the two companies said that they had agreed to a “multi-dimensional” new deal that included “improved remuneration” for Universal’s roster of artists and songwriters, and would address the label’s concerns over the growth of A.I.-generated content on the app.

In statements that accompanied the announcement, Shou Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, called music “an integral part of the TikTok ecosystem.” Lucian Grainge, the chief executive of Universal — the world’s biggest music company, with a roster of artists including Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Drake and U2 — called the deal a “new chapter in our relationship with TikTok” that “focuses on the value of music, the primacy of human artistry and the welfare of the creative community.”

The agreement ends the music industry’s biggest and most contentious dispute with a tech platform in years. Both companies hurled public accusations at each other, and artists from across the spectrum worried about whether their careers would be hurt by the absence of their music from TikTok, which has become a vital promotional platform and boasts more than 170 million users in the United States alone.

But the deal also comes amid wider uncertainty for TikTok as the app faces a possible ban or sale in the United States because of national security concerns over the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance. Last month, President Biden signed a bill that would allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States if it was sold in nine months, though the company is expected to challenge the law in court.

Universal began to withdraw permission for its music from TikTok on Feb. 1, after an impasse in negotiations to renew its previous licensing agreement. At the time, Universal said that TikTok “attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth.”

Millions of videos that included Universal music — including many artists’ own official music videos — were muted on the platform. TikTok said that by withdrawing its songs, Universal had “put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

TikTok and Universal have not commented on their negotiations since then. But the dispute seemed to shift three weeks ago, when Swift — the biggest and most influential artist on Universal’s roster — broke ranks with the label and returned her music to TikTok, ahead of the release of her most recent album.

Her move may have weakened Universal’s leverage. But since the ban took effect, fans noticed that songs from many other Universal artists, including Grande and Camila Cabello, had returned, often in sped-up or slowed-down versions that may have been uploaded to the platform by fans.

In their announcement, TikTok and Universal did not offer any specifics about the financial terms of their deal. The companies’ statement says they will work together to “realize new monetization opportunities” through e-commerce, and that TikTok will “invest significant resources” in building tools like data analytics and ticketing.

The companies added that they were “working expeditiously” to return Universal’s music to the platform. That could take a matter of days or weeks.

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