Heart on My Sleeve: The Ethics and Legal Issues of AI in Music

April, 28 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no stranger to the music industry. From AI-generated music tracks to the use of algorithms to create personalized playlists, the technology is playing an increasingly important role in shaping the way we experience music. However, a recent controversy has brought the use of AI in music back into the spotlight. A song titled "Heart On My Sleeve" by Drake and The Weeknd, which was created using software trained on the musicians' voices, has been removed from streaming services due to copyright issues. The controversy raises a number of questions about the use of AI in music, its legal implications, and its potential impact on the industry.

The creator of "Heart On My Sleeve," known as @ghostwriter, claimed that the song was made using software that was trained on the voices of Drake and The Weeknd. The track features simulated vocals of the two artists trading verses. The song went viral after being posted on several platforms, but it was soon removed from Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, and Tidal following criticism from publishers Universal Music Group, which said that the song violated copyright law. It is currently in the process of being pulled from TikTok and YouTube, although some versions remain available. Universal said that platforms had a "legal and ethical responsibility" to prevent the use of services that harm artists.  It was streamed 629,439 times on Spotify before it was pulled. At Spotify's lowest royalty rate of $0.003 per stream, that means it earned about $1,888.

The controversy highlights the legal issues surrounding the use of AI in music. According to Jani Ihalainen, an intellectual property (IP) lawyer, the law around copyright and artificial intelligence is not straightforward. While UK copyright law provides performers with certain rights over their performances, including making copies of recordings of specific performances, a "deepfaked" voice that does not specifically copy a performance will most likely not be covered and could even be considered a protected work in its own right. Current legislation is nowhere near adequate to address deepfakes and the potential issues in terms of IP and other rights.

Even though Universal Music Group and Republic Records said that they have been doing their own innovation around AI for some time; they added: “The training of generative AI using our artists' music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs [digital service providers], begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation."

However, the use of AI in music is not all bad news. It has the potential to transform the industry, from the way music is created and consumed to the business models that underpin it. Tony Rigg, a lecturer in music industry management at the University of Central Lancashire and music industry advisor, said that the use of AI in the music industry is a double-edged sword, with tensions arising from its potential to undermine the value of human creativity, juxtaposed with its potential to augment it. While the possibilities are enormous and evolutionary, it is difficult to imagine the full extent of AI's potential to impact the creation, consumption, and business of music in what promises to be a transformative era.

One artist who is embracing the potential of AI in music is Grimes. Following the controversy surrounding "Heart On My Sleeve," the musician offered a 50-50 split on the royalties of any hit AI song made using her voice. Grimes' comment came at a time when the use of AI looks set to disrupt the broader music industry, as well as its copyright arrangements. She said on Twitter that she would split 50% royalties on any successful AI-generated song that uses her voice and that the same deal applies as with any artist she collaborates with. She added that people are free to use her voice without penalty as she has no label and no legal bindings. Grimes also said that she had been working on a means to register music that uses her AI-generated voice "using smart contracts." This has caused quite the stir in the industry, with many questioning whether it is a sign of things to come or the next Napster.

In conclusion, the controversy surrounding "Heart On My Sleeve" highlights the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of AI in music. There are legitimate concerns about its impact on human creativity and its potential to undermine the value of artists' work. However, AI still has the potential to transform the industry.  It can help in the creation of new sounds, styles, and genres that may have otherwise been impossible to create. AI can also streamline the music production process, making it faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective. Furthermore, AI-powered music discovery tools can help listeners discover new music that aligns with their tastes, making it easier for artists to find an audience.