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TikTok reaches music licensing deal with Universal, ending feud

TikTok and Universal announced a new licensing agreement Thursday, ending a months-long dispute that saw popular music expunged from the social media platform. The companies released a joint statement that said the new deal included “improved remuneration” for artists and songwriters under the Universal Music Group (UMG) umbrella, and will also assuage concerns over the growth of AI-generated content on TikTok.

Universal chairman Sir Lucian Grainge said “this new chapter in our relationship” would “drive innovation in fan engagement while advancing social music monetization.” The deal “focuses on the value of music, the primacy of human artistry and the welfare of the creative community,” he said.

TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew similarly said “we are committed to working together to drive value, discovery and promotion for all of UMG’s amazing artists and songwriters, and deepen their ability to grow, connect and engage with the TikTok community.”

The deal wraps up closely watched negotiations that saw a breakdown earlier this year, with the companies - two of the most powerful players in the music and tech industries - publicly criticizing each other as they jockeyed for leverage.

Universal - whose roster of artists includes Taylor Swift, Drake and Billie Eilish - ordered music from all artists connected to its vast publishing catalog to come down off the app, leaving many concerned over losing the marketing potential TikTok can offer. Millions of videos involving Universal artists became muted on the platform.

But while the stripped music will now return to TikTok, it comes at a moment of uncertainty for the wildly popular video-sharing app, one week after a new US law demands the company divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or be shut out of the American market. The app has 170 million users in the United States alone. Neither Universal nor TikTok disclosed any financial terms of the deal.

Several weeks ago, the powerful and popular Swift returned some of her music to the app ahead of the release of her most recent album. It was unclear exactly how she did it, but Swift does own her own master recordings as well as her songwriting rights, though those too are administered by Universal’s publishing arm.

In their joint statement the companies said they were “working expeditiously to return music by artists represented by Universal Music Group and songwriters represented by Universal Music Publishing Group to TikTok in due course.” — AFP

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