Generative AI Reaches Fork in the Road (Guest Column)

Generative AI Reaches Fork in the Road (Guest Column)

AI has incredible promise and music creators are first in line exploring just how far these tools and innovations can take us.

At the same time, like every new technology, AI has risks and music creators are also first in line working to ensure it develops in lawful, responsible ways that respect individual autonomy and extend human creativity and possibility. 

Yet today, a year and a half after the first mass market AI services were released, we still don’t know whether the promise or the peril of AI will win out. 

Too many developers and investors seem to see a zero sum game – where AI behemoths scrape artists’ and songwriters’ life’s work off the internet for free and without any opportunity for individual choice, autonomy, or values. Where most of us see music, art, and culture to be cherished, they see soulless data to copied, “tokenized,” and exploited. Where most of us look to collaborate and reach for new horizons, they prefer to exploit art and culture for their own narrow gains. On the road to society’s AI future, it’s their way or no way.

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At the top of the list of irresponsible developers are two music generation services, Suno and Udio, who claim to offer the ability to generate “new” music based on simple text prompts – a feat that’s only possible because these models have copied and exploited human-created music on a mass scale without authorization. Both have clearly chosen the low road of secretive, unconsented scraping and exploitation of copyrighted creative works instead of the high road of licensing and partnership.

To address this egregious conduct, a group of music companies have today filed lawsuits against Suno and Udio in federal court in Boston and New York City, respectively. These lawsuits seek to stop the companies’ industrial scale infringement and steer generative AI back onto a healthy, responsible, lawful path.

Suno and Udio clearly recognize the business risks they are taking, going to extreme lengths to avoid transparency and refusing to disclose even the most obvious facts about how they have exploited copyrighted works or to even show us what works they have copied and used. If they really believed their own “fair use” rhetoric, if they really believe what they are doing is legal, would they work so hard to hide the ball?  

The worst part is, these are multi-million dollar companies funded by the deepest pockets in the world who know the long term value music brings to their projects and who can well afford to pay fair rates for it; they just don’t want to. They willingly invest mass sums in compute and engineering, but want to take the most important ingredient – high quality human creativity – for free.  

It’s a deeply shortsighted gamble – and one that has a track record of failing to deliver. Early internet services who relied on similar arguments and failed to get permission before launching are the ones who flamed out most spectacularly. Meanwhile digital streamers that partnered with artists and rightsholders to gain permission and innovate a healthy, sustainable marketplace together are today’s leading global music services. 

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And it’s totally unnecessary. Music creators are reaching out and leaning into opportunities in AI that support both innovation and the rights of artists and songwriters and have extended the hand of partnership and licensing to responsible AI companies. 

In the last year, Sony, Warner and Universal have used creative AI tools to deliver breathtaking new moments with iconic artists including The Beatles, Roberta Flack, and David Gilmour and the Orb, all with appropriate partnership and consent. Music companies have partnered with ethical cutting-edge AI firms like BandLab, Endel and SoundLabs. And singer/songwriter Randy Travis used AI to record his first new song since largely losing his voice after a 2013 stroke. 

But AI platforms should not mistake the music community’s embrace of AI as a willingness to accept continuing mass infringement. While free-market partnerships are the best path forward, we will not allow the status quo scraping and copying of artists’ creative legacies without permission to stand unchallenged. As in the past, music creators will enforce their rights to protect the creative engine of human artistry and enable the development of a healthy and sustainable licensed market that recognizes the value of both creativity and technology.

Generative AI has extraordinary promise. But realizing it will take collaboration, partnership, and genuine respect for human creativity. It’s time for AI companies to choose – go nowhere alone or explore a rich, amazing future together.

Mitch Glazier is Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).