Triller responds to Sony Music lawsuit over unpaid licensing fees

Credit: Solen Feyissa

Triller, the US-based challenger to TikTok, has responded to Sony Music Entertainment, four months after the major sued the company for allegedly failing to pay “millions of dollars” in contractual licensing fees.

In its response to SME’s complaint, which was lodged in a New York court in August, Triller confirmed that it has been unable to issue payments to SME due to a range of reasons. Those reasons were not disclosed in its December 5 court filing.

“Triller admits that it has not made payments to [SME] since March of 2022 and that [SME] notified Triller on July 22, 2022 that Triller was in breach of the agreement,” the company said in its response, filed on December 5, and seen by MBW.

SME then terminated the deal on August 8 after Triller failed to make payments from May to August despite Sony contacting the company in April regarding the late payments.

Triller, however, denied that it continued using Sony Music content after August 8. In its complaint filed on August 29, SME said, “Triller has continued to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, display, create derivative works, and otherwise exploit the valuable Sony Music content” through the Triller app after the agreement was terminated.

In response, Triller said it blocked its app’s users from accessing Sony Music works after receiving the termination notice from SME.

The companies entered into a licensing agreement in September 2016. SME had accused Triller of “historically” failing to make payments in a timely manner under that agreement.

SME was prompted to take legal action after Triller’s non-payment recently escalated, Sony Music said at the time.

The record label also accused Triller of going on a purchasing spree at the time when no payments were made.

SME then highlighted some of Triller’s acquisition deals around the time it failed to pay licensing fees. The acquisitions include its purchase of influencer marketing software platform Julius on March 28, and the April 25 purchase of Fangage, a platform for creators to host and sell content to their fans.

Triller then completed a “substantial” pre-public financing round on August 29, saying it had raised over USD $300 million to that date. It later closed another round of funding, securing USD $310 million from GEM (Global Emerging Markets), a Luxembourg based alternative investment group.

The fundraising comes as Triller prepares for a public float that has been long stalled as the company faces lawsuits and a challenging macroeconomic environment.

In September, Triller settled a lawsuit filed by superstar producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz over alleged missed payments from their song battle platform Verzuz.

Sony Music did not put a figure to its lawsuit against Triller, but a Triller spokesperson told MBW earlier this month that the dispute is worth “over $2 million.”

“We have a dispute with Sony over $2 million, a dispute which will be decided in the court system,” the spokesperson said.

The same spokesperson confirmed to MBW that Triller is taking down Merlin music amid reports that the platform had removed the catalogs for Merlin and major labels Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Universal Music Group.

However, the Triller spokesperson said the company has active agreements with Warner Music and Universal, which, they added, account for more than 65% of the used popular music on the app.

The company spokesperson also hinted about the company’s plans to adopt a “Spotify-like model,” which would let the company share revenues to rightsholders instead of spending large cash payments on licensing agreements.

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