Skip to content

Shelly Palmer - Here We Go Again

Shelly Palmer has been named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” and writes a popular daily business blog.
angryface-unsplash
Major record labels are sueing AI music generators for copyright infringement.

In the least surprising lawsuit of 2024, the music industry is suing AI startups Suno and Udio for allegedly using copyrighted music without permission. Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Group have filed two separate suits (one in New York and one in Massachusetts) claiming that these companies trained their AI models using copyrighted songs without licensing or consent. These record labels are demanding injunctions against future use and damages up to $150,000 per infringed work. Please take a few minutes to read both of these complaints.

Suno and Udio have each built AI models that feature text-to-music interfaces that are similar in functionality to ChatGPT for text-to-text or Midjourney's text-to-image systems. Before you decide how you feel about these lawsuits, please visit both Suno and Udio and try them out for yourself. It's one thing to read about this, but experiencing it is something altogether different.

In its complaints, the RIAA claims the AI-generated music sounds remarkably similar to tracks by The Temptations, Green Day, Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, and others, suggesting that the models were trained on these copyrighted works. For example, the lawsuit details how an AI tool reproduced Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" almost identically using specific prompts.

While the RIAA says it isn't against AI training on copyrighted works, it insists that such training must be done legally, with proper licensing and compensation. The recording industry is working on AI deals that include licensed music to ensure fair compensation. Universal Music Group has partnered with SoundLabs and YouTube for AI licensing agreements, illustrating the industry's willingness to embrace AI under the right conditions.

Is this just a desperate effort to cash-in on the AI boom, or is this a legitimate attempt to protect the rights of composers? There are no performance rights in question here, so perhaps this is just about masters, which are generally owned by the recorded music companies. (The devil is in the details.)

Suno's co-founder Mikey Shulman maintains that the company's practices are legal and industry-standard, stating they work closely with lawyers to ensure compliance. However, the lawsuits argue that Suno and Udio have been evasive about their training data, which suggests deliberate copyright infringement.

These are the lawsuits I've been waiting for.

Every human musician trains on copyrighted musical works. Every commercial composer and arranger has been asked to create works "inspired by" pre-existing copyrighted material. In practice, it's the only way that a non-musically trained patron could ever hope to ask a musician or composer to create something for them. "I want something that sounds like 'Star Wars' for the hero shot, and then it needs to get quiet like that Hans Zimmer 'Interstellar' piano theme, then transition to the chase scene, which needs to feel like Avicii and Calvin Harris had a baby."

This is literally the format of every verbal musical brand brief I've ever received. Smart production executives don't write these requests down in order to plausibly deny that they intended to trade on the work of others. Importantly, almost every video/film editor uses "temp tracks" (which, by definition, are pre-existing copyrighted works) for roughcuts. This has been my professional experience for the past 50 years, but the practice certainly predates my career.

The courts will now get to decide what our copyright laws actually cover. For now, I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

As always, your thoughts and comments are both welcome and encouraged. Just reply to this email. -s


ABOUT SHELLY PALMER

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com