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Universal Music again demands streaming platform support over AI-created music as fake Drake goes viral

By | Published on Tuesday 18 April 2023


Universal Music has again called on the streaming platforms to play their part in ensuring that generative AI tools are not infringing the copyrights of the music industry. Though this time it stresses that that also involves removing music created by copyright infringing AI technologies, as well as stopping said technologies from scraping the music stored on their servers.

The latest statement has been issued after another AI-created Drake track caught everyone’s attention. I guess, given Drake’s status as one of the biggest artists in the world today, it’s unsurprising that music-making AI is being used to create new Drake tracks. Though, I think we can all agree, the human Drake has already created far more Drake tracks than we really need, and we definitely don’t need the robots joining in.

At the weekend, Drake responded to an unofficial AI-created track in which his voice seemed to be performing a version of Ice Spice’s ‘Munch (Feelin U)’, stating on Instagram that “this is the final straw”.

However, Universal’s statement was prompted by a track uploaded by someone going by the name Ghostwriter, in which a fake Drake performs a song called ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ accompanied by an also AI-generated The Weeknd. After quickly going viral on TikTok, the track also appeared for a time on the streaming services. Until Universal Music – as the label of both artists – seemingly got it taken down.

“UMG’s success has been, in part, due to embracing new technology and putting it to work for our artists”, the major said in a subsequent statement, “as we have been doing with our own innovation around AI for some time already”.

“With that said, however, the training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on [the streaming services], begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation”.

“These instances demonstrate why platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists”, it then insisted. “We’re encouraged by the engagement of our platform partners on these issues – as they recognise they need to be part of the solution”.

The music industry remains adamant that when generative AI tools are trained by mining data associated with existing songs and recordings – in order to compose and record new works, or create vocals in the style of a specific artist – licences are required from whoever owns the copyright in that existing music.

A failure to secure such a licence therefore constitutes copyright infringement. With that in mind, Universal Music recently sent a letter to the streaming services urging them to ensure that the music on their platforms isn’t scraped by the makers of any generative AI technologies, stating: “We will not hesitate to take steps to protect our rights and those of our artists”.

All that said, as always there are plenty of ambiguities in copyright law in this domain, especially once you go global. If it turns out that, in at least a few jurisdictions, some data mining is possible without licence, that will raise some interesting questions, including what happens when music created by AI trained in those countries is made available across the world.

Then there’s the question as to whether an artist can protect their distinct vocal style over and above preventing the mining of their copyright protected recordings. That takes you beyond copyright and into image and publicity rights. And, in that domain, the recently filed lawsuit by Rick Astley – even though not in itself an AI music case – could prove interesting.

Either way, Universal continues to make it clear that it expects its licensing partners in the digital music marketplace to be close allies when it comes to monitoring and policing the creation and distribution of what seems likely to be an ever-increasing number of AI-created songs and recordings in the style of human music-makers.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.