Taylor Swift’s Music Returns to TikTok Despite Ongoing Dispute With UMG

When Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music company, went to war with TikTok earlier this year over licensing terms, songs by hundreds of its artists were removed from the platform, and have remained absent.

But on Thursday, music by one very special Universal artist returned: Taylor Swift.

A number of songs by Swift — whose new album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” comes out next week — have reappeared in TikTok’s official music library, where they are available for the service’s millions of users to place in the background of their own videos. Those videos have become one of the music industry’s most important promotional vehicles, with the potential to mint new hits or breathe new life into old tunes — even as many artists and labels complain about low royalties from the service.

The available songs from Swift appear to be from the period since she signed with Universal in 2018, including hits like “Lover,” “Anti-Hero,” “Cruel Summer” and “Cardigan.” Also available are her “Taylor’s version” rerecordings of older hits like “Style,” “Love Story” and “Shake It Off,” which were originally released by her first label, Big Machine. After Big Machine was sold in 2019 without her participation, Swift announced plans to rerecord her first six studio albums, and has already released four of those. Each went straight to No. 1.

It was not immediately clear how Swift’s songs made it back to TikTok while Universal’s ban remains in place. When the company announced its plans to remove music earlier this year, it said its licensing contract with TikTok expired Jan. 31. By the early hours of Feb. 1, Universal’s music began to disappear from TikTok, and millions of videos that used the label’s music went silent.

While Swift is part of Universal’s roster of artists, she owns the rights to her own recordings, as well as her songwriting rights, which are administered by the Universal Music Publishing Group, a division of the company.

Representatives of Swift, Universal and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Universal, whose hundreds of artists include stars like Ariana Grande, Drake, Lady Gaga and U2, said it was withdrawing permissions for its music after it was unable to reach a new licensing deal with TikTok. The company accused TikTok of being unwilling to pay “fair value for the music,” despite its importance to the platform. Universal also voiced concerns that TikTok was “allowing the platform to be flooded with A.I.-generated recordings,” diluting the royalty pool for real, human artists.

In response, TikTok accused Universal of putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”

The dispute has been one of the most dramatic clashes in years between the music industry and a tech platform, and it has drawn a mixed public response. While many music industry groups have supported Universal, artists have expressed worry about the loss of such a valuable promotional platform.

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