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Copyright Challenges in AI-Generated Music: Who Really Owns the Melody?

As its popularity grows, the debate over AI-generated music copyright and authorship heats up, and a number of legal battles explode. Who owns the rights?

Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

As AI takes center stage in the music world, the lines between tech and tunes are blurring. Yet, with innovation comes complexity, especially in copyright law. So while AI reshapes music, the big question remains: who owns an AI-generated track? Is it the software's creator, the artist who fed the prompts, or someone else? Let’s try to figure it out.

Rising role of AI in music creation

AI has been used to create or aid music production for decades, from David Bowie's 1990s Verbasizer app to The Beatles-esque 2016 track "Daddy's Car." But adoption has reached new heights. A recent survey showed 25% of musicians already using AI tools, with 46% willing to experiment.

Today's AI can generate entire songs and albums solo, requiring no humans. Google's Magenta penned a Nirvana-esque track by studying their catalog. Startups like Authentic Artists offer synth collaborators-for-hire to team up with flesh-and-blood artists. Even Taylor Swift can be a part of an AI duet.

Other apps let you craft a song by answering questions or generate royalty-free music at the push of a button. The implications are massive as AI transforms music creation.

However, legal issues around copyright and ownership remain unresolved. As AI reshapes the creative process, there will likely be growing pains. But for now, the machines seem focused on making music, not stealing jobs until the robot revolution takes off.

As AI music soars in popularity, thorny legal questions loom around copyright. Who owns an AI-generated track—the software's creator or the artist who prompted it? A recent viral hit highlighted the gray area.

"Heart on My Sleeve," an AI song mimicking Drake and The Weeknd, racked up millions of streams before platforms like Spotify removed it over hazy copyright claims. Its takedown seemed questionable, though—the otherwise original track only included one sample, added unintentionally.

But the debacle highlighted the legal limbo AI music inhabits. As another viral AI Drake track called "Winter's Cold" also got removed, tensions are rising over ownership. Experts argue AI systems learn from ingesting swaths of copyrighted data, like an artist digesting influences. So, who deserves the credit?

The clash will likely intensify as AI music spreads. Solving the copyright puzzle could require overhauling legal frameworks. Without clarity, musicians and platforms will likely continue wrestling control of this new creative frontier. For now, though, the industry is trapped in uncharted waters—let's hope it doesn't end in lawsuits.

The US Copyright Office has taken a firm position—for now, AI-generated works should have the "human authorship" for copyright protection. In 2023, they denied an application to copyright an award-winning image made by the generative AI system Midjourney. And they won a case upholding their ability to reject works created without human input.

Their logic stems from believing copyright should only apply to original works reflecting human creativity. For example, the Office granted copyright to an AI-illustrated comic book but not its computer-generated images. Works by nature, animals, or machines typically don't qualify.

However, their bedrock requirement for "human authorship" may shift as generative AI technology evolves. The Office itself seeks comments on AI's impact on copyright law and creative industries. With public feedback, new legislation catered to AI-generated works could emerge.

How this plays out has billion-dollar implications for stakeholders like artists, music streaming platforms, AI companies, and consumers. As AI proliferates in creative fields, legal clarity will help everyone better understand their rights in our increasingly computer-augmented world.

Human authorship still rules AI tunes

The big question swirling around AI-generated songs: do these robotic rhythms meet copyright standards granting "exclusive rights" to reproduce and distribute original works? The answer lies in proving human authorship.

America's Copyright Office scrutinizes whether tunes reflect an author's creative "mental conception" rather than just a machine cranking out sounds after getting fed some text prompts. Without discernible human input, these AI compositions can't secure protection.

In one 2022 judgment, copyright was awarded to an AI-illustrated comic book but not its computer-made images. The ruling upheld the longstanding notion that works by nature, animals, or gadgets creativity aren't eligible for human copyright.

AI-generated music is also navigating a complex legal landscape for copyright protection. The instances where AI compositions are eligible for copyright usually involve significant human intervention, tweaking the AI's output. Yet, armed with just a few prompts, modern generative AI tools can create complex musical pieces independently.

This emerging scenario is fueling a critical debate. It underscores the need for a delicate balance between protecting traditional musicians' rights and acknowledging AI's capabilities.

Addressing this challenge may necessitate revamping existing copyright laws, conceived in a predominantly analog era, to fit our increasingly digital creative landscape better.

One thing's clear, though—true creative genius still demands a human touch at this time.

AI music is booming, but suspicions of copyright infringement abound, judging by recent crackdowns. Service Boomy helps users release machine learning-generated songs on streaming platforms like Spotify, taking a royalty cut. But Spotify removed thousands of tracks over artificial streaming concerns, violating agreements.

Music industry giants like Universal Music Group are also aggressively policing AI content. When an AI song convincingly mimicked Drake and The Weeknd's voices, UMG leveraged exclusive rights to reproduce works, removing it from Spotify. Another fan-made AI album incorporating protected elements like Liam Gallagher's voice and Oasis’ style drew legal heat for potentially infringing copyright.

The message is clear: big music entities are ready to act against AI tunes they see as copycatting intellectual property without permission. Generative models are trained on copyrighted data, inevitably incorporating protected elements without licensing deals. And labels cringe at ultra-realistic synthetic voices cloned from their stars using machine learning.

These episodes showcase AI music colliding with legal tripwires. The tech continues advancing rapidly, but copyright frameworks move slowly. Unless laws adapt, creativity risks getting choked. For now, though, the music industry brandishes threats against disruptive AI spreading potentially infringing tunes.

Wrapping this up, as AI overtaking music creation industry there are still many unknowns. Looking forward to the future, here are some of the scenarios for further development of using AI in the music industry:

  • The intersection of AI and copyright could spark legal challenges. We might witness a class action lawsuit involving major players like Spotify and Apple over the use of AI in music distribution. Getty Images recently faced such a scenario with AI-generated images; a similar case in the music industry isn't far-fetched.
  • Further, AI might draw on copyrighted works to produce entirely new genres as it becomes more advanced. This could lead to an AI-generated voice and music boom, potentially leading to billions of dollars in new market value. Yet, it also poses significant risks for copyright owners, who might see their works used as a tool without consent.
  • AI's advancement might lead to the creation of new music genres by drawing on existing copyrighted works, posing significant challenges for copyright owners.
  • AI's growing role in music could disrupt market dynamics, particularly with AI-generated voices and styles that closely mimic well-known artists

The US Copyright Office recently opened the door to considering protecting AI-generated works, signaling a shift in how we view authorship and creativity. But despite AI's advancements, human input remains central to music's copyright eligibility, at least for now.