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Triller Settles, Pays Two Black Creators
A logo for the video platform Triller.

It might be too late for Triller to apologize to Timbaland, but the Grammy-winning artist and his partner Swizz Beatz are finally getting their dues from the music app – sort of.

Timbaland and Swizz Beatz sued TikTok competitor Triller in August for a cool $28 million, alleging that Triller missed several payments it agreed to send while buying the hip-hop legends’ rap-battle platform Verzuz.

Los Angeles-based Triller is a video-based social media app that uses artificial intelligence to help users with average tech know-how make music videos. It’s similar to TikTok, but specific to music videos.

It recently bought Verzuz, Timbaland and Swizz Beats’ webcast series that launched in March 2020 and pits music legends against each other for concerts in the form of live-streamed “battles” to millions of fans worldwide.

This week, the two parties settled their beef out of court. Triller refused to disclose terms of this new settlement or how much it planned to pay for the live rap-battle platform. But that price tag could be upwards of $50 million.

Verzuz blew up in popularity during the pandemic, as it gave music fans a chance to see artists they had no other shot at witnessing perform because of lockdowns.

Swizz and Timbaland were quick to flex their industry connections and landed some artists for concerts on the platform that hadn’t treated the public to performances in awhile, including Erykah Badu v. Jill Scott, or Gladys Knight v. Patti LaBelle. In one extra-memorable event last summer, Verzuz got Snoop Dogg to face off against DMX in what would be one of X’s final performances before his death last April.

Triller definitely needs Verzuz–with its 6 million Instagram followers and 5 million live viewers of its most recent event.

Verzuz is naturally tapped into Black culture in a way that Triller’s been trying to organically replicate – almost every Verzuz battle trends on Twitter, and the hip-hop community gets excited about it, too; most shows feel less like an “8 Mile” rap battle and more of a chill reunion with unique performances often fueled by plenty of Diddy’s Ciroc.

Speaking of Ciroc, Triller was also paying for a potential advertising gold mine here. Verzuz is already making use of this, most events are sponsored (including a partnership with Apple Music) but as the platform grows it's likely to attract bigger bucks.

Triller also recently put to rest a case with TikTok; both parties dropped opposing patent lawsuits this week.

Triller had sued TikTok in 2020, claiming TikTok ripped off its feature that let users sync up multiple music videos to one track… and then TikTok hit back with a suit claiming Triller actually stole its digital music tech. Reuters reported Triller and ByteDance asked the cases to be dropped Sept. 26.

The settlement isn’t the first time Triller’s been accused of not paying up, though. It’s currently facing a hefty suit from Sony Music Group for alleged breach of contract and copyright infringement, where Sony argued “ Triller displays brazen contempt for the intellectual property rights of Sony Music, its artists, and others.”

Of course, Triller denies this, telling Variety last month, “we are focused on furthering the creator economy, and we will continue to seek a contract that achieves that goal.”

Still, creators active in the economy Triller seeks to “further” aren’t happy with the platform either. Universal Music Group yanked hundreds of top acts including Drake and Ariana Grande off Triller last February, claiming the app didn’t pay them and refused to renegotiate new contracts; though the two sides ultimately did come to a deal.

And for all its focus on wanting to monetize Black Culture online, Triller seems to be making a pattern of not paying its creators of color on time. Last month, The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz reported that Triller promised Black creators $4,000 per month as an incentive to create content for the app, but that some influencers weren’t paid and resorted to “skipping meals to make ends meet.”

“They told us that so much was going to happen for us. We were made to look like fools,” influencer David Warren told the Post at the time.

Despite all this drama, Triller is still trying to go public. It originally was targeting a reverse merger with an ad firm called SeaChange, but scrapped that plan in June, in favor of a direct listing. That seems to still be the goal; in a Sept. 23 statement Triller CEO Bobby Sarnevesht told TechCrunch, “we look forward to bring Triller, Verzuz and the Trillerverz to the public markets as one happy family.”

Kumbaya, I guess? We’ll have to, uh, check on it in the coming months.— Samson Amore

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