Last month, a song that featured the AI-generated voices of Drake and The Weeknd went viral and subsequently was removed from various streaming platforms. Music label Universal was behind at least one of the takedowns, citing copyright infringement, according to Variety.
The song, dubbed "Heart on My Sleeve," was created by anonymous TikTok user Ghostwriter977 and highlights how the growing use of AI has created complications within the entertainment industry. On the one hand, companies and artists are trying to figure out how to utilize the technology known as generative AI to produce content. French DJ and producer David Guetta recently used AI to add the voice of Eminem to one of his songs — without Eminem actually performing on the track.
Let me introduce you to… Emin-AI-em 👀 pic.twitter.com/48prbMIBtv
— David Guetta (@davidguetta) February 3, 2023
But on the other hand, companies must navigate how to protect the work and earnings of artists with whom they have relationships.
Universal did not respond to Yahoo Finance's request for comment on "Heart on My Sleeve."
During its most recent earnings call on April 26, UMG CEO and Chairman Lucian Grainge told investors, "The recent explosive development in generative AI will, if left unchecked, both increase the flood of unwanted content hosted on platforms, and create rights issues with respect to existing copyright law, in the US and other countries, as well as laws governing trademark, name and likeness, voice impersonation, and right of publicity."
The company said it's currently in talks with lawmakers and governments to protect and defend creators' rights.
Proponents of AI, however, have a different view on whether the use of AI that has learned from existing artists like Drake constitutes copyright infringement.
"In the case where Drake’s voice was used to make a new song, it is not a copyright infringement in the traditional sense since it wasn’t a copy of Drake’s song,” said Natalie Monbiot, head of strategy at Hour One, an AI startup virtual generating human-narrated videos. “There has never been a precedent for use of his voice – since AI voice synthesis wasn’t even possible until recently. The argument in court would need to be that the copyright applies to the training process, and training data (Drake’s voice) used in the models."
'A Wild West situation'
He explained the platform's role in navigating the new technology is twofold: fostering creative innovation and protecting creators and artists.
"These are very, very complex issues that don't have a single straight answer," he said, explaining AI-related issues include everything from "fake tracks from artists, which falls in one bucket" to "using AI to allow for expression, which probably falls in the more lenient and easier bucket."
Adding to the complexities is the question of whether AI-generated content can be protected and who gets compensated for it. When it comes to understanding why the interplay between copyright and AI is so legally complicated, it all ties back to two words: "legal person," said Jonathan Bick, intellectual property chair at law firm Brach Eichler.
"General property belongs to the person who created it, and AI isn't a legal person," he told Yahoo Finance. This raises questions about how copyright rights can be asserted when a song, image or video is built by an AI model – and starts to make money.
"AI can't assert copyright infringement, because courts work out disputes between legal persons," said Bick.
A second issue is what happens when the AI model creating that content studies protected works to do it, something the industry has referred to as "training" the technology.
There are, as of now, limited answers: "It's really a Wild West situation right now," said John Strohm, a partner at law firm Frost Brown Todd.
Ultimately, for artists, generative AI presents clear problems – and, if managed correctly, vital possibilities.
“Artists tend to look at these things as threats,” said Strohm. “I think that what you’ll see is a lot of creative people who are anxious and protective, but if on balance this goes well – and a lot can go wrong – it’s going to give creative people new tools to do great work. The opportunities are enormous, and the threats are enormous."
But for artists, protecting their IP in this Wild West isn't just about money, rendering a much more high-stakes conversation surrounding generative AI.
"Music and AI are complex topics in part because of the way that economics of the music industry works, but because you're talking about someone's art," said Jessica Powell, founder and CEO of Audioshake, an AI-focused startup that helps artists deconstruct their songs for new applications. "This also applies, of course, not only to music but to images and videos and other debates we've seen across other kinds of media with the explosion of generative AI. We're sort of asking: What do people have the right to recreate with, and train these models on? What are we okay with as a society?"
'Quite disruptive and quite challenging'
Complications arising from AI aren't just an issue within the music industry.
Striking Hollywood writers have demanded restrictions be placed on the use of artificial intelligence in current and future projects. In a statement, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) said it wants studios and networks to stop using AI to write or rewrite literary material, in addition to using it as source material. It also asked studios to stop using original material to "train" AI.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which bargains on behalf of studios including Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery NBCUniversal, Paramount, and Sony, said in its own statement that AI "raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone."
"It's something that requires a lot more discussion, which we've committed to doing," the AMPTP said, adding that AI-generated material would not be eligible for writing credits and also cannot be copyrighted under the current contract.
Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Iger weighed in on ongoing AI discussions during the company's quarterly earnings call on May 10, telling investors on the call, "It's clear that AI is going to be highly disruptive, and it could be extremely difficult to manage, particularly from an IP management perspective."
He added Disney's legal team "is working overtime to come to grips with what could be some of the challenges," noting this is an issue facing multiple industries.
"Overall, I'm bullish about the prospects because I think they'll create efficiencies and ways for us to basically provide better services to customers," he said. "On the other hand, I think that there's a lot we're going to have to contend with that will be quite disruptive and quite challenging."