Business News CMU Digest

CMU Digest 21.05.23: Andy Warhol Foundation, Generative AI, Brixton Academy, Ed Sheeran, Leadmill

By | Published on Sunday 21 May 2023

The key stories from the last week in the music business…

The music industry welcomed a ruling in the US Supreme Court over Andy Warhol’s series of Prince artworks. Warhol used a photo of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith as a reference point for the various artworks he created in the 1980s. The first was a commission by Vanity Fair magazine which secured a licence for the use of Goldsmith’s photo, but the subsequent works were created without permission. Goldsmith objected when the Andy Warhol Foundation sold a licence to Vanity Fair publisher Conde Nast allowing it to use one of the later artworks on the cover of a commemorative magazine following Prince’s death in 2016. The photographer argued that by doing so without her consent the Foundation had infringed the copyright in her original image. The Foundation countered that Warhol’s Prince artworks were a transformative use of Goldsmith’s photograph, meaning its licensing of the images constituted ‘fair use’ under US copyright law, so her consent was not required. A New York court initially agreed, but an appeals court then overturned that ruling, and the Supreme Court has now confirmed that the Foundation cannot use the fair use defence. With the music industry keen to ensure that no one can argue that the unlicensed use of music to train generative AI tools constitutes fair use, this ruling restricting the definition of transformative fair use is good news. [READ MORE]

US Congress put the spotlight on the copyright questions posed by generative AI. Although neither the technology nor the questions are new, with AI having become such a big talking point in recent months, it has become increasingly urgent to deal with the various issues posed by technologies that can automatically create and produce music. At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, music-maker Dan Navarro set out the key objectives of the Human Artistry Campaign, which has been set up by the music industry to lobby on these issues. He said that when AI tools are trained by crunching data connected to existing songs and recordings a licence is required from whoever owns that music – and law-makers shouldn’t introduce any new rules that remove that obligation. Meanwhile Sy Damle – formerly General Counsel for the US Copyright Office – told the committee that he felt existing copyright law could tackle most of the issues that have been raised about generative AI, with the fair use principle balancing the interests of copyright owners and technology makers. Though he admitted that when it came to artists seeking to protect their voices – which are being increasingly imitated by music-making AI tools – that goes beyond copyright, probably into the realm of publicity rights. [READ MORE]

Over 20,000 people made representations to Lambeth Council in support of the Brixton Academy. London’s Metropolitan Police have asked the council to review the licence used by the venue’s current operators the Academy Music Group following the crowd crush incident at a sold-old Asake show last December which resulted in two deaths. AMG says that it has provided both the council and the police with plans for how it can safely re-open the venue, which has been closed since the fatal crowd crush occurred. But the police claim that AMG’s analysis of what went wrong at the Asake show has been “far too narrow”, focusing mainly on crowd management issues outside the building. So much so, the police force has “lost confidence in the premises licence holder” and believe’s AMG’s licence should be revoked. With concerns that this might lead to the venue closing permanently, a campaign was launched urging the music community and music fans to submit formal representations to the local authority demanding that it allows the venue to continue operating. It’s thought neither the council nor the police actually want the venue to close, the question is whether AMG should be allowed to continue to run it and, if not, who might be able to take it over. [READ MORE]

Ed Sheeran defeated another lawsuit that accused him of ripping off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ when he wrote his 2014 song ‘Thinking Out Loud’. As well as being sued by the estate of ‘Let’s Get It On’ co-writer Ed Townsend, Sheeran also faced song-theft litigation from Structured Asset Sales, which owns a portion of the copyright in the Gaye classic. In both cases, the Sheeran side argued that the two songs sound similar because they use the same musical building blocks, which are not protected by copyright in isolation. The judge overseeing the SAS litigation, Louis Stanton, previously declined to dismiss the lawsuit by summary judgement stating that “the law does not support Sheeran’s contention that the combination of ‘Let’s Get It On’s chord progression and harmonic rhythm is insufficiently original to warrant it copyrightable”. However, Sheeran’s lawyers asked the judge to reconsider that ruling and – shortly after a jury sided with Sheeran in the Townsend estate case – Stanton confirmed that, having reconsidered the matter, he was now dismissing the SAS lawsuit. He said that various decisions made in similar song-theft cases in the US courts in recent years had informed his reconsideration. SAS plans to appeal. [READ MORE]

The war of words continued over the future of The Leadmill in Sheffield. The current management team at the venue announced in March last year that they had been served notice by their landlord to vacate the building. That landlord is the Electric Group – which already runs venues in London, Newcastle and Bristol – and wants to directly run The Leadmill moving forward. As part of an ongoing campaign to avoid eviction, the current management team noted that the Electric Group has applied for a premises licence from Sheffield City Council and suggested that their supporters might want to object to that application. However, they admitted that the only grounds for making an objection are: “The prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; the protection of children from harm”. Responding to all that, Electric Group boss Dominic Madden said in a statement: “We have been running licensed venues since 2003 and have never had any issue or licence review. Our venues in London, Newcastle and Bristol host hundreds of gigs and events every year for thousands of music fans. Our team has many years of experience running venues, producing theatre and promoting gigs”. [READ MORE]

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