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Artists need protection from the threat posed by AI generated music

Image by Tracy Worrall

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin

4 min read

It’s crucial that people using music to train AI technologies respect copyright and gain consent from the original music makers

Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have been as rapid as they are transformative. These changes bring huge opportunities but also massive risks if we get it wrong. The music industry is a highly innovative sector and embraces new technologies. AI is already used as an assistive tool to detect copyright infringement and predict consumer trends. However, the use of AI to generate music raises difficult questions. 

One recent example saw AI used to clone the voices of Drake and The Weeknd for a new song after the software was “trained” on the musicians’ voices. It’s important to remember, however, these are not “creations” in the genuine sense and have a serious impact on creators and performers, as well as those who work with them.

AI generates, it never creates. It needs to be trained through a process of “ingesting” existing pieces of music and copying and analysing various patterns. It can then generate a “new” piece of music based on that analysis.

However, too often people are illicitly using music to train AI technologies without any regard to copyright and without the consent of the original music makers. This is fundamentally wrong. If you have created something, then you should have the right to decide how that work is used and by whom.

Take as an example John Williams, one of our greatest living composers. If you want John Williams to score your new film, you could just take his music, feed it into an AI and generate a film score. You get a new “John Williams soundtrack” without paying him a penny. A win for you perhaps, but certainly not for John Williams or the consumer who doesn’t get the real deal. This situation is perverse and obviously wrong – yet could happen to any composer, songwriter or music creator.

AI generates, it never creates

It’s clear that government needs to take action and ensure the right guardrails are in place for the development of AI. There are a number of steps policymakers should take.

Firstly, government must put copyright and IP protection at the heart of its approach to AI and commit categorically to there being no new copyright exceptions. It’s crucial the training of AI respects copyright and is based on gaining appropriate permissions. Secondly, there must be an obligation for adequate record-keeping. We need to know exactly what content an AI has been trained on. At present, we don’t know what AIs trained on or whether the creators consented. Thirdly, labelling is vital. It’s important to know whether content is human-created or has been generated solely by a computer. Fourth, we must rapidly look at the issues around the protection of personality and image rights in the context of AI and ensure there are adequate protections to keep pace with the rapid development of these new technologies.

Other countries are ahead of us. Proposals have been put forward in the European parliament and the Chinese regulator also set out new draft measures recently. Both contain a strong commitment to copyright and IP. It would be quite something if the United Kingdom’s regulatory framework ends up less transparent and with weaker protections for creators’ property rights than the People’s Republic of China. 

We must ensure AI technologies are developed to support human culture rather threatening the personal creations we cherish. The global Human Artistry Campaign sets out clear principles that must underpin this debate. As the collective voice for the UK music industry, UK Music has already signed up to these – and we urge policymakers to put these principles at the heart of the UK’s approach to AI.

There is much to excite us and just as much to rightly concern us about the ferocious pace of AI development. It’s absolutely critical that as we move forward we develop AI technologies in a way that enhances and enables human artistry rather than eroding it – for the good of consumers as well as for music creators and our world-leading music industry. 

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin is chief executive of UK Music


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