How The Latest AI-Generated Copyright Loss Could Add Friction To Music And Technology’s Complicated Relationship

With the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) based creative tools like ChatGPT, Dall-E and Midjourney, the laws protecting these new forms of generative content are the government agencies that create them and the creators that create them use faces new challenges unique to the emerging technology genre.

What is Generative AI?

Generative AI is a subset of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to generate new content from existing data in the form of images, text or music. This AI has many accessibility and creativity benefits, but tracking digital copyrights, or IP, in the form of data that algorithms decompose and reassemble to create new works presents a multi-layered and complicated logistical and legal conundrum.

AI generated images that are not copyrighted

Last week, the US Copyright Office (USCO) decided to recognize part of the copyright registration for a comic book made with AI – a departure from its original statement. Zarya of the Dawn, a comic book written by Kris Kashtanova, consisted of three components created using AI software – the text of the book, the choice of illustrations, and the images in the book. In this case, the text and graphic selections were deemed copyrighted, but the individual AI-generated images in the book, made with Midjourney, were found not copyrighted. In a letter first reported by Reuters explaining the copyright registration, USCO said the images were not protected because they were “generated by midjourney technology” and “are not the product of human authorship.” As this case is a first of its kind, the outcome could anticipate how AI-generated material will legally impact all creative industries, especially music.

Discourse on copyright in music

When it comes to music, the copyright discourse is already deeply embedded in the fabric of the industry, with many performing rights organizations (PROs) and legal teams integrated into the fine print whose job is to negotiate royalties between copyright owners and those who hold the rights , collect and enforce any desire to publicly use these copyrighted works.

However, the music industry operates in a somewhat closed and opaque ecosystem of hierarchy, while technological innovation tends to value transparency and an open-source model, creating a tense intersection between the two discourses, particularly when it comes to managing protections for Creator of musicals goes works.

While some parts of the archaic system are still catching up with the advances technology has made in music, serving everyone from creators and fans to gatekeepers of mainstream labels and DSPs, the future of music and technology sees bright. In recent years, technologies in the form of social media and even Web3 have created social layers between music communities and technologists, spawning many innovations aimed at decentralizing traditional systems and giving creators more autonomy.

AI and music

Computerized technology has been a rather latent part of the music industry for decades. With artists like David Bowie and Brian Eno breaking new ground in creating futuristic sounds, the recent uptick in the conversation about music AI shows that the future is now. According to the latest research and newsletter from research and intelligence firm Water & Music on creative AI in the music industry, “In 2023 over 10 different music AI models have been published by independent researchers and big tech companies like GoogleGOOG and ByteDance, hundreds of thousands of AI-generated songs are now performing on streaming services, and generative AI tools for audio, text, and visual art have gained tens of millions of users, forcing us to rethink traditional notions of creativity, ownership, and attribution.”

Ethical and Legal Concerns

As the adoption of AI in music accelerates, new issues are emerging, breaking new ethical and legal ground. “Many musicians seem to think that using AI to create music is cheating, but once you start debating who gets to make art and how, other kinds of ethical questions regarding ableism and classism arise,” writes Kelly Bishop of VICE.

According to the Zarya of the Dawn Copyright case honoring the protection of works authored by a human, where does that leave works authored by a human using AI technology as a creation tool? When musical works created by a human draw on creative elements integrated with AI, where do you draw the line?

The question is both logistical and legal. Is tracking every input in a dataset of a Generative AI program the responsibility of that program or the creator who used it? How exactly is the source tracked, stored and transmitted when potentially millions of pieces of data are used to generate new creative sounds, text or images with AI?

Friction between music and technology

A similar conundrum has plagued blockchain technology and its effectiveness in music. Technically, storing a musical work’s information in the blockchain’s immutable ledger could solve many of the problems affecting the authors of that musical work – from producers to songwriters, musicians and designers who all brought a piece of music to life. The problem with this utopian vision of blockchain technology that could solve all of these problems – which it easily could – is that every single party involved in the lifecycle and the musical work would have to “speak the same language” using the same technology system . Imagine trying to have a group chat with half the people using iPhones and the other half using Androids, it’s like a phone game. The music industry in its current form is far too vast and fragmented to use a single system for anything.

I’m looking forward to

In large part, PROs exist to act as administrative detectives for content authors’ rights – as new authors in the form of AI accelerate, will we also see new agencies emerge to defend generative creative rights?

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