Universal Music, Triller Bury the Hatchet With Worldwide Licensing Deals

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After a months-long standoff, Triller and Universal Music Group announced worldwide licensing agreements spanning recorded music and publishing.

In February, Triller said it “had no use for a licensing deal with Universal Music Group” — which, not surprisingly, resulted in UMG pulling its catalog from the platform, citing the short-form video app platform’s failure to pay licensing fees for songs used on its service. Now, under the newly announced deals, Triller’s users have access to UMG’s full catalog of music from the company’s record labels and recording artists, as well as the songwriters and catalogs represented by Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG).

The agreements with Universal Music come after Triller in March announced a licensing agreement with the National Music Publishers’ Association, which represents most U.S. music publishers.

“We are pleased to announce our renewed agreement with UMG and our new pact with UMPG,” Triller chairman Bobby Sarnevesht said in a statement. “Triller has become one of the most important platforms in music today, and these agreements ensure that artists and songwriters across Universal Music Group have full access to the global Triller ecosystem.” Triller is controlled by Sarnevesht and former movie producer Ryan Kavanaugh.

Jonathan Dworkin, UMG’s EVP of digital business development and strategy, said: “We’re pleased to have a deal with Triller that embraces the importance of compensating our artists, especially given the tremendous value music generates across their platform. With this agreement, UMG continues to expand the universe of licensed social media platforms that allow fans to legitimately create and share content, while also growing an important new source of revenue for our artists.”

In addition, UMPG chief counsel David Kokakis said: “UMPG’s mission is to support songwriters. By licensing new platforms like Triller, we ensure writers are fairly compensated and we are strategically delivering growth to the overall publishing business.”

During a May 7 discussion concerning Triller’s recent deal to acquire Verzuz, Sarnevesht addressed the sore subject of UMG’s claims against Triller for not reporting royalties and the label/publishing group’s demand to remove its catalog from the app — and he claimed then that a resolution between UMG and Triller was imminent.

“I think Triller got some bad press around its relationship with publishers, but that was the previous regime,” said Sarnevesht. “We want to be part of the community, not pirates stealing stuff.”

Last month, Triller named Amplify.ai co-founder/CEO Mahi de Silva as the new chief executive of the company. Triller’s previous CEO, Mike Lu, moved into a new role leading investor relations.

While Sarnevesht told Variety this week that he could not detail specifics of the negotiations since January, he added, “We were never mentally and emotionally far apart from each other. It was never ‘bye, forever.’ It was only ‘bye’ until we figured out a fair and amicable deal for everyone concerned.”

Sarnevesht continued, “Now, we have a multiyear deal that allows Triller usage of the UMG catalog globally and UMG’s publishing. That was always important to us. It was a weird moment in time for both parties, so we’re happy to have any badness behind us, so that we can continue to build up our platform, amplify our artists, and work closely with UMG moving forward. Considering all of the label and publishing agreements we have in place, this nearly completes that picture.”

Triller’s previous licensing deal with UMG expired at the end of 2020. Universal Music had temporarily extended the pact into the new year — until it became clear that Triller, at the time, had no intentions of actually renewing it. “Triller has shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward,” a Universal Music Group rep had said in February when the company pulled its catalog from the app. “We will not work with platforms that do not value artists.”