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Short-form video-sharing platform Triller is set to pay Sony Music Entertainment $4.57 million after reaching a settlement over a breach of agreement lawsuit. The record company had initially sued Triller in 2022 after the company allegedly failed to pay music licensing fees. The agreement comes after Triller was over one year late on contract payments, according to Sony Music.
This isn’t the first time the Los Angeles-based startup has been in hot water with record labels. Universal Music Group sued Triller in January after the company allegedly missed nine months of licensing payments. In September, Triller settled a lawsuit from artists Timbaland and Swizz Beatz after the company did not make payments following its acquisition of their live streaming platform Verzuz. Amidst its legal troubles, the company failed to make good on its promise to go public last year.
Triller’s issues allegedly stem from its inability to actually pay the record labels it is striking deals with. But it’s not alone in provoking the music industry’s ire. Increasingly, relationships between record labels and short-form video platforms have soured.
Just look at TikTok. Though the company has consistently paid music licensing fees, record labels consider those payments insufficient. Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group all wanted a portion of TikTok’s significant advertising revenue last year. Some industry insiders hope to move away from relying on viral videos as a marketing strategy. And back in 2020, music publishing companies threatened to sue TikTok over copyright infringement, though the lawsuit did not come to fruition.
These spats haven’t stopped TikTok from becoming a music powerhouse that can both launch new artists into stardom and revive classic songs. The impact of a viral TikTok hit has made the platform a necessary evil for music labels’ marketing efforts. The same, however, cannot be said for Triller, which has fewer users and less money than TikTok.
For its part, TikTok is trying to prove that it can function without the music provided by the labels. The platform began testing limitations on how many songs a user can upload in February. Last year, TikTok launched its own music platform SoundOn. To that end, some industry insiders worry that TikTok is trying to become a record label itself—a move that would further strain relationships within the music industry.
Meanwhile, YouTube Shorts finally let creators use up to one minute of licensed music in their videos last year. YouTube, which helped launch new artists like Justin Bieber and Charlie Puth, used to have TikTok’s ability to start careers. But as YouTube raked in advertising revenue, labels wanted royalty payments to increase. Some artists, including Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift, signed an open letter to Congress in 2016 that requested action against YouTube for hosting videos that violated copyright laws. Now, rights holders are paid a portion of a video’s ad revenue. Still, some artists, however, have found that YouTube’s royalty payment system is rife with errors.
Which is to say, it appears the music industry is re-living its YouTube war with TikTok and Triller. What remains to be seen is if TikTok manages to build out its own record label—a move that could seriously threaten the music labels that have already been burned.
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