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Universal Music urges the streaming services to ensure their platforms aren’t being scraped by music-making AI tools

By | Published on Thursday 13 April 2023

Artificial intelligence in music

It has emerged that Universal Music recently sent a letter to the big streaming services expressing concerns that the makers of generative AI tools might be scraping those platforms’ catalogues in order to train their technologies. The major urged Spotify and others to ensure that any such activity is blocked.

Although not new, generative AI tools have become a big talking point in the music industry of late, partly because those technologies are getting a lot more sophisticated, and partly because of the hype surrounding platforms like ChatGPT.

AI technologies that can compose, produce and record music pose a number of important copyright questions, including around the copyright status of music created using AI, and also what licences are required when such technologies are trained by crunching data associated with existing songs and recordings.

There remains some debate as to whether copyright law in some countries actually allows such training without licence, or even whether some training of AI technologies could be covered by the US principle of fair use.

The copyright industries are generally adamant that any crunching of data associated with existing copyright protected works can only be done with the permission of the copyright owner, and that any AI tool developer that doesn’t get that permission is liable for copyright infringement.

All that is likely to be tested in court in the months and years ahead, with the cases involving Getty and visual generative AI platform Stability.AI – which are being pursued through both the UK and US courts – definitely ones to watch.

However, even once any questions regarding the possible ambiguities in copyright law have been sorted out, there remains the challenge of tracking what databases and catalogues of content have been mined by what AI technologies.

This is becoming a particular concern within the music industry at the moment, with suspicions high that a number of music-making AIs have been trained via unlicensed data mining.

“We will not hesitate to take steps to protect our rights and those of our artists”, Universal’s letter to the streaming services declared, according to the FT. But doing so will likely require some detective work as well as legal wrangling.

When asked about the letter to the streaming services yesterday, Universal told Billboard: “We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorised use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists”.