Universal Music Group went public with its concerns about short-video app Triller in February 2021, pulling its catalogue from the app and saying it had “shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward”. In May that year, the pair settled their differences with a new licensing deal, but barely 20 months on the relationship has crumbled again.
In fact, it’s a new low because this time UMG is actually suing Triller as well as terminating the agreement. The lawsuit alleges that Triller has not paid UMG invoices for the last three quarters as part of the nearly-$3m deal for licensing and past use of Universal’s catalogue. It is also accused of failing to provide quarterly usage reports on the major’s catalogue.
Triller has come out swinging, as is its wont. “Nothing more than a minor contractual dispute with a publisher, not the label, and has no impact whatsoever on Triller or its business,” it told Variety. “This is a dispute about publishing for a very small percentage of the catalogue, and is the ordinary course of business for the music industry and over a small amount of money.”
It’s bold, to say the least, to brush off a lawsuit and a deal termination from the world’s largest music company in such a relaxed fashion. Not least because it’s already also being sued by Sony Music, which alleged in August that Triller had failed to make payments while continuing to make Sony’s catalogue available within its app.
In December, Triller also removed music licensed by Merlin on behalf of independent labels, but hit back at claims it was removing music from major labels, citing “current active agreements with Universal and Warner Music which is more than 65 percent of the used popular music”. In the light of that, if UMG terminates its deal now, Triller’s claim of ‘no impact whatsoever’ seems optimistic.