AI music is really entering into the mainstream – and artists are in a tizzy. “Heart On my Sleeve,” serves as a great example of the issue. “Heart On my Sleeve” is an AI-generated song that cloned Drake and The Weeknd’s voices and mimicked their styles. The song now highlights new copyright issues borne from artificial intelligence’s rapid development.
The song was played millions of times across multiple platforms before Apple Music and Spotify removed it early last week, according to The New York Times. On YouTube, the original version of the song shows a message stating “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Universal Music Group.” A video including another AI-generated song, this time mimicking rapper Eminem, also made waves online last week. A YouTube link to the video was still active Monday evening.
While neither artist has reacted publicly to the song, Drake had previously been critical of his voice being cloned using artificial intelligence. “This is the final straw, AI,” he said in a now-deleted post on Instagram after seeing a fan-made AI-generated video in which he appeared to be rapping.
On the other hand, Grimes has taken to Twitter to offer 50% royalties on any AI-generated song that uses her voice, then declared that she is interested in “killing copyright,” which would probably undermine her ability to collect royalties in the first place. We might be living in the weirdest timeline, but unless Grimes is working on any secret interdimensional transit projects (you never know), the music industry has to reckon with what to do next.
“The element that really needs to be centred is these questions of consent,” said Kevin Erickson, director of the Future of Music Coalition, in a conversation with TechCrunch. “If we just decide because the technology is capable of bypassing everybody’s consent, that we’re just going to go along with it… that means that we’re not engaging with some of the most important and central questions about ethics, and some of the most central and important questions about labour.”
As per usual, streaming services will be the ones who land on top. If more people use their streaming service to listen to more music, then they get more money. But for many artists and music fans, AI poses a threat.
“When artists are already struggling, it seems like a dangerous step,” entertainment lawyer Henderson Cole told TechCrunch.
Between abysmal streaming payouts and the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the live music industry, musicians have been having a rough go of it, to say the least. Now, like visual artists, these performers have become guinea pigs for technology that appropriates their work without consent.
“In a world where Ed Sheeran and Robin Thicke are getting sued just for sounding similar to a hit song, someone using AI to copy an artists’ voice or musical sound seems unlikely to be allowed,” Cole said.
It takes a long time for the legal system to catch up with new technology, but for now, major labels like Universal Music Group (UMG) have spoken out in opposition to the use of generative AI.