What’s the deal with Triller and music? It’s a longstanding question around the short-video service, and there are competing narratives around the latest twist in its relationships with music rightsholders.

On Friday (2 December) Billboard claimed that Triller was removing music from all three major labels plus indie licensing agency Merlin, with a spokesperson telling the publication that it was “reassessing each of our label deals as they come due as our catalogue music usage is a small fraction of our overall business with creators”.

But wait a second. The same day, MBW carried a statement by Triller confirming that it was removing music licensed by Merlin (and that it does not currently have a deal with Sony Music, amid an ongoing legal dispute) while asserting that “we have current active agreements with Universal and Warner Music which is more than 65 percent of the used popular music”.

However, those deals will expire at some point, and Triller is talking about what it wants to replace them with. “Arrangements that do not involve tens of millions in annual payments rather a revenue split,” according to the latter statement, which goes on to describe it as a “Spotify-like model”.

This clearly plays into a trend that’s been discussed a lot this year: major rightsholders’ desire to get a share of large social platforms’ revenues rather than just up-front payments. It’s at the centre of the current negotiations between labels and TikTok, for example. In theory, Triller should be pushing at an open door.

In practice, however, such deals are built on trust. At various points in its history, Triller has fallen out with UMG before later making up; been strongly criticised by US publishing body the NMPA, although a deal was later reached there too; been sued by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland over payments from its acquisition of their Verzuz brand, before settling that lawsuit; and faced scrutiny over its public metrics.

This pattern of disputes – but yes, also subsequent settlements or resolutions – may present challenges if Triller wants to move away from the kind of large, up-front advances which rightsholders have historically preferred for emerging and/or unproven licensing partners.

Meanwhile, seeking to cut music licensing costs so soon after Triller announced a “binding $310m investment” and predicted that its revenues would surpass $100m this year also risks rubbing rightsholders up the wrong way.

“A very small percentage of our users use the major label music as most of our users enjoy to make their own content with OG sounds and to upload on their own,” Triller told MBW in its statement. All eyes will be on UMG and WMG to see whether they see this rhetoric as a bluff to be called when their current deals expire.

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Music Ally's Head of Insight

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