The Memo: AI copycat tracks: Streaming services’ latest IP headache

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AI copycat tracks: Streaming services’ latest IP headache

Amy Howe – 18 April 2023

Last week, the Universal Music Group (UMG) issued letters to popular streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music, asking the platforms to restrict the use of copyrighted songs for use in artificial intelligence training. Currently, certain AI platforms are able to produce an end product that mimics characteristics of the original artist’s material. For example, you could ask an AI to write a song in the style of Adele, but using vocals similar to Nicki Minaj. As AI-generated songs have started appearing more frequently on streaming services, UMG faces the increasingly difficult task of issuing takedown requests on material that was produced using their artists’ intellectual property.

The Financial Times reported that Google’s own innovation, MusicLM, which is not available to the public, was trained using almost 300,000 hours of music. Yet Google researchers quickly found that nearly 1% of the generated songs were almost, if not identical copies of the copyrighted songs that the AI had been trained on.

In the US, AI research labs have historically escaped prosecution thanks to the ‘fair use’ exemptions within US law, arguing that the AI-generated end product does not directly compete with the copyrighted materials it was trained on. Now, this argument is likely to fall through, given the research done by Google and the fact that these generated songs are now being introduced into the mainstream streaming market on popular platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music. The situation in the UK is a little different. Thanks to a recently added clause in our intellectual property laws, legally acquired copyrighted material can be used for non-commercial AI research. Through ‘data laundering’ (much like money laundering), this research can later be used to train commercial models and evade any copyright prosecution.

If you're interested, you can read more about music law here.