Singers, Scandals, and Social Media: Universal Music Group Pulls Entire Catalog From Triller
Unless you live under a rock, your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications from everyone’s favorite social media craze, TikTok. As the most downloaded app of 2020, the world is quickly falling into social hierarchies of “those who have TikTok” vs “those who don’t”.
But hiding in TikTok’s shadow, lurking just out of public consciousness, lives TikTok’s lesser-known cousin, Triller. While similar in business model, Triller occupies a separate niche than TikTok in a few key ways:
- Triller uses an AI to edit videos–Unlike TikTok which has a host of in-app video tools, Triller uses an AI program to autogenerate filters and overlays, as well as text and other effects. This increases the production quality of the videos but sacrifices user control.
- Triller Uses Music Differently–Triller allows for users to use full musical tracks, as opposed to the short snippets that TikTok allows. Triller users can also add music from their Apple Music and Spotify libraries, as well as from the in-app bank of songs, while TikTok only allows for in-app songs. This means that Triller has to cut way more deals with industry heavy hitters, including both major and independent labels.
There are a few other minor differences, such as the difference in how Triller and TikTok optimize content for users, but these two major differences are the most important, especially to understanding the scandal with UMG.
Without further ado, let’s get to the meat and potatoes: last Friday, Universal Music Group announced that they would be removing their entire catalog from Triller, citing licensing concerns as the primary reason. In an official statement, UMG declared:
“TRILLER HAS SHAMEFULLY WITHHELD PAYMENTS OWED TO OUR ARTISTS AND REFUSES TO NEGOTIATE A LICENSE GOING FORWARD.”
Essentially what we are looking at is a basic copyright dispute. In order to operate ethically, social media apps like TikTok and Triller need to negotiate licensing agreements with record labels. This way the artists signed to those labels get paid for their music and the labels can collect proper royalties. Triller and UMG had previously negotiated a licensing deal in 2018, but the deal has since expired. In response, no artist signed to a UMG affiliate label can have their music featured on Triller. Anyone who knows anything about music knows that as one of the big 3 labels in the US, UMG’s catalog contains a massive amount of artists, from Lady Gaga to Maroon 5 to Guns and Roses.
Triller’s response has been… less than stellar. Their first course of action was to claim that they don’t need a license from UMG. An official statement read:
“TRILLER DOES NOT NEED A DEAL WITH UMG TO CONTINUE OPERATING AS IT HAS BEEN SINCE THE RELEVANT ARTISTS ARE ALREADY SHAREHOLDERS OR PARTNERS ON TRILLER, AND THUS CAN AUTHORIZE THEIR USAGE DIRECTLY. TRILLER HAS NO USE FOR A LICENSING DEAL WITH UMG.”
Triller is essentially claiming that since many artists signed to UMG, including Kendrick Lamar, are investors in Triller, they don’t need to go through UMG but can obtain direct authorization from the artists. Triller’s big-money investors are no secret, as UMG, Sony Music, and Warner Music are all investors in the app, as well as artists such as The Weeknd and Snoop Dogg. Investors or not, when it comes to paying artists, Triller’s response isn’t good enough.
Triller’s second response was a bit tamer, with CEO Mike Lu claiming that:
“OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH UMG IS SOLID. ITS BIGGEST ARTISTS ARE INVESTORS AND PARTNERS IN TRILLER AND UNIVERSAL OWNS PART OF TRILLER. WE FIND IT HARD TO BELIEVE UMG WOULDN’T GIVE US ANY WARNING OR NOTICE BUT JUST TELL US VIA PRESS.”
Triller continues to claim that their relationship with UMG remains healthy since UMG owns considerable shares in the app. Frankly, they seem more upset about the manner of notice than the scandal itself.
Even if most of you have never heard of and/or don’t use Triller, there are some major implications to keep in mind. As the U.S continues to badger Chinese companies like TikTok, Triller continues to rise, exponentially gaining more users. If a company growing fast continues to forgo basic courtesies like licensing agreements and artist pay, then the future of social media copyright deals could be in serious jeopardy.
There is really only one lesson here: PAY ARTISTS FOR THEIR WORK!! As far as Triller’s actions go, I call serious bullshit. Social media is the future of music, and that’s only going to become more true as technology involves. This means that licensing and copyright deals are only going to get more complicated. At the end of the day, we all deserve to have the music we love, and the artists we love deserve to get paid for their work.
Arie Likhtman is a double major in music industry studies and Critical Communication and Media Studies with a minor in philosophy at Butler University. Originally from St.Louis Missouri, he has played music since the age of 4, studying everything from classical piano to ballroom dance to saxophone. He is deeply passionate about all aspects of music from the hot 100 charts to underground indie rock. He hopes to use his voice as a writer to bring new artists to the forefront of the conversation, and to offer new perspectives on music, culture, and society as a whole