Universal Music Group on Friday removed its catalog from Triller, the music-focused social app and TikTok rival, claiming the app “shamefully” stopped paying for its artists’ content. Triller, in response, said its deal with UMG recently expired and that its been negotiating to reach a new agreement.
“We will not work with platforms that do not value artists,” a Universal rep said in a statement. “Triller has shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward. We have no alternative except to remove our music from Triller, effective immediately.”
A rep for Triller told Pitchfork the app’s deal with UMG expired about a week ago. The two companies originally reached a licensing agreement in 2018, giving Triller users access to UMG’s full catalog, including artists like Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
“We have been negotiating since [the deal expired] in an attempt to renew,” the Triller rep said. “The renewal however was just a formality and a courtesy to UMG, as a shareholder of Triller. 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.”
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The rep added: “We categorically deny we have withheld any artist payments (our deal has only been one week expired) and if anything, it is UMG using their artist names as a front to extract ridiculous and non-sustainable payments for themselves and not their artists. They did this exact same thing to TikTok for two years and virtually every other social network.”
Triller CEO Mike Lu went a step further, telling Billboard this must be a bad “Punk’d” episode.
“I’m waiting for Ashton to jump out of my closet,” Lu said. “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.”
Launched in 2015, Triller is owned primarily by Ryan Kavanaugh’s Proxima Media. Beyond its relationship with Universal, Triller has also signed licensing deals with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. The app in December exclusively hosted the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. fight.