Triller, UMG reach deal, ending fight over payments to artists

Billie Eilish performs
UMG artist Billie Eilish performs at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 2019. UMG said Thursday it has an expanded licensing agreement with Triller, allowing the video app’s users to access songs by artists like Eilish.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Triller and Universal Music Group said Thursday they reached an expanded licensing agreement, ending a dispute earlier this year over payments to musicians.

The agreement will allow users of Triller’s video app to regain access to songs by UMG artists such as Drake, Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish. The agreement covers UMG’s full music catalog from its record labels and artists and songwriters from Universal Music Publishing Group.

“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 the platform,” said Jonathan Dworkin, UMG’s executive vice president for digital business development and strategy, in a statement.

Universal Music Group said it removed music by Drake, Pop Smoke and others from the streaming app Triller after the company stopped paying UMG artists.

Feb. 5, 2021


The agreement resolves a heated dispute between the two companies. In February, UMG pulled its music catalog from Triller, saying the video app company had “shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists” and that it refused to negotiate a future license.

At the time, Triller denied withholding payments. The company said it “does not need a deal with UMG to continue operating as it has been since the relevant artists are already shareholders or partners on Triller, and thus can authorize their usage directly.” UMG countered, saying, “Triller’s statements are ‘removed from reality.”

The companies declined to disclose terms of the agreement.

Social media apps that flourish by allowing users to upload music videos rely on partnerships with music labels. Rivals to Triller such as TikTok have deals with UMG, and the availability of songs on one platform over another could sway where users spend their time.

“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 Chairman Bobby Sarnevesht said in a statement.

Triller’s parent company TrillerNet is majority owned by Proxima Media, an investment company led by Ryan Kavanaugh, the flamboyant former head of mini-studio Relativity Media, which flamed out after entering bankruptcy and underwent restructuring.

The settlement comes a month after a management shake-up. TrillerNet named Mahi de Silva, the company’s nonexecutive board chairman, as chief executive officer, replacing Mike Lu.

The company had positioned itself last year as a rival to TikTok when the Trump administration threatened to ban the app. Since then, Triller has expanded its business from its initial music video app to hosting live pay-per-view performances such as boxing matches, and its recent acquisitions include Verzuz, which hosts battles between music artists.