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Triller hits back at Universal after major pulls catalogue, says recent licensing talks a mere “courtesy”

By | Published on Monday 8 February 2021


Triller hit back at Universal Music on Friday after the major announced it was pulling its music from the social media app. Triller’s CEO expressed surprise at the news, while a spokesperson for the company said that ongoing licensing talks with the music company were only a “courtesy” anyway.

When announcing that it was bailing on Triller on Friday morning, Universal issued a pretty stern statement accusing the video sharing platform of “shamefully” withholding payments and refusing to negotiate a new licensing deal. “We have no alternative except to remove our music from Triller, effective immediately”, it said.

Triller has entered into deals with various music companies in recent years, including all three majors. Although some music publishers publicly criticised the digital firm last year for not sorting out all the necessary song right licences. The publishers got all the more pissed off as Triller’s userbase spiked, partly as a result of its main rival TikTok’s political woes, especially in the US. Independent publisher Wixen then went legal in November.

It’s thought the majors did relatively short-term experimental deals with Triller, as is quite common with new services that are still working out their exact business models. Those deals included the majors getting equity in the Triller business.

A spokesperson for the social media app confirmed that that initial deal expired earlier this month, but nevertheless seemed surprised by Universal’s Friday announcement. CEO Mike Lu was similarly surprised, telling reporters that he had found out about the major’s decision via its press release, despite him being under the impression his company had a “solid relationship” with the world’s biggest record company.

In their subsequent statement, Triller’s spokesperson was pretty damning of Universal, its announcement and the major’s recent negotiating tactics. It was sufficiently damning about those negotiating tactics, in fact, that an imminent bust-up should probably have been pretty foreseeable.

“We can confirm our deal with Universal Music Group expired approximately one week ago”, the spokesperson said. “We have been negotiating since then in an attempt to renew”.

And then the dissing began.

“The renewal, however, was just a formality and a courtesy to UMG”, they added, pointing out Universal is a shareholder in Triller. Not only that, they went on, “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 authorise their usage directly. Triller has no use for a licensing deal with UMG”.

Of course, when it comes to working with Universal-signed artists as influencers and creators on the Triller platform, those direct relationships may be all that is required. But to include Universal recordings in the app’s in-built music library – or, indeed, in any videos uploading by those partner artists, a licensing deal with UMG is very definitely required.

Disputing one of Universal’s specific claims, the Triller spokesperson went on: “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”.

“It is unfortunate UMG decided to use the press as its ‘negotiating leverage’ when they realised we aren’t going to be held hostage”, it went on. “UMG is well aware any agreement was just out of respect and courtesy, not necessity. We have been operating without it and there has been no change in our business”.

So, that’s an entertainingly bold statement isn’t it? Although, according to Universal, Triller’s comments are well and truly “removed from reality”. We await with considerable interest to see what happens next.