TikTok is about to find out if it can survive without Taylor Swift and Ice Spice

Taylor Swift and Ice Spice perform onstage during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at MetLife Stadium on May 26, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Taylor Swift, Ice Spice.Getty/Kevin Mazur
  • Universal Music Group said it could not reach a deal with TikTok to license its music.

  • UMG's contract expires on Wednesday, but there's no agreement on what UMG says are key issues.

  • The label says TikTok pays a "fraction of the rate" that other platforms do for licensing.

Universal Music Group is not "In Ha Mood."

The label behind Taylor Swift, Ice Spice, and more of the world's biggest artists said Tuesday that it has had enough with TikTok and wants to pull its artists' catalogs from the platform unless it agrees to better compensation for musicians — and more protections from AI.

In a scathing open letter, UMG states that TikTok is an "increasingly influential platform with powerful technology and a massive worldwide user base." Still, it has pushed the platform for a better licensing deal.

The current contract between UMG and TikTok expires Wednesday, per the letter.

"In our contract renewal discussions, we have been pressing them on three critical issues — appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok's users," UMG wrote.

UMG accused TikTok of being cheap with its artists, saying that the social media platform pays a "fraction of the rate" that other platforms do for licensing. It also complained about TikTok's promotion of AI music. The platform is testing a feature allowing users to make their own songs with AI.

TikTok could be in big trouble if the music stops

UMG pulling its song catalog from TikTok could be a huge blow for the platform, which prioritizes sounds and music as part of the user experience.

Drake, Olivia Rodrigo, Beyonce, Doja Cat, and hundreds of other artists fall under UMG. Some of TikTok's most popular sounds of last year, including PinkPantheress' "Boy's a Liar Pt. 2", Ice Spice's "In Ha Mood," and Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" are a part of the label's catalog.

"Despite Universal's false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent," TikTok said in a statement to Business Insider.

The social media platform instead accused UMG of putting "their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters."

"TikTok has been able to reach 'artist-first' agreements with every other label and publisher," TikTok told Business Insider. "Clearly, Universal's self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans."

The dispute with UMG isn't the only problem on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's plate this week. Chew is set to testify at a US Senate hearing about online child safety on Wednesday.

Wednesday's hearing will be the second time Chew has come under Congress's spotlight. The TikTok chief was grilled about his company's content moderation policies and ties to China by lawmakers in March.

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