Contributing Editor: Rachelle Mulumba, The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property
AI Generated Music: Creative Genius or Legal Minefield?
With the latest advancements in generative AI models, we are witnessing the birth of music pieces generated without human intervention. But this also raises several legal questions. Can we copyright a melody birthed by a machine? If AI imitates an artist’s style, where do we draw the line between appreciation and appropriation? Will AI take over music for good?
“Crazy,” a recent music video project by Alya Michelson that was edited entirely with AI tools showcases the blurred boundaries between human and machine. Shown from the AI POV of a human, the video serves as an exploration of the role that AI plays in the music industry.
Copyright and AI-Generated Outputs
Historically, copyright laws protect creators and their creations. But, introducing AI into the mix has blurred the lines.
The cornerstone of copyright is a blend of originality and human creativity. If a machine produces music without human intervention, is it truly original or merely a remix of its programmed knowledge? In a 2023 policy statement, the U.S. Copyright Office underscored a human authorship prerequisite for copyrightability. Yet, has the role of humans in shaping AI-generated content been considered?
Imitation, Inspiration, and Intellectual Property
Generative AI doesn’t merely create; it can be tuned to reflect the essence of existing works from renowned artists or entire genres. When a tune evokes the unmistakable legendary sounds of music acts like the Beatles or music composers and producers such as Quincy Jones, does it tread on their IP rights? Currently, mimicking the spirit or style of an artist remains outside the fences of copyright infringement. But as the capabilities of artificial intelligence grows, should our legal boundaries evolve as well?
A recent sensation, “Heart on My Sleeve,” serves as a prime example. This generative AI pop hit sounded eerily similar to the distinct voices of Drake and The Weeknd, instigating heated debates about creativity, technology’s role, and the legal bounds of art. While the song was a chartbuster, it also attracted DMCA takedown notices from both artists, leading to its removal.
The issue parallels a case from the past: Midler v. Ford Motor Co. At the time, Ford employed a sound-alike artist to mimic Bette Midler’s voice in a commercial after she turned them down. Midler’s legal stance hinged on the unauthorized use of her vocal identity, suggesting it was a unique attribute. Though set in a different backdrop, her case carved a precedent, hinting that an artist’s voice might hold distinctive legal weight.
Yet, “Heart on My Sleeve” introduced a twist. It wasn’t a replica of any specific song by Drake or The Weeknd. Rather, it was an original piece, transparently tagged as AI-enhanced, with a disclaimer about the non-participation of said artists. If the creator had been trying to capitalize on the signature elements of the two artists, it could raise legal issues related to publicity rights.
From a global standpoint, copyright legislation varies. For instance, under French law, authorship predominantly rests with natural persons. A landmark 2015 decision by the French Supreme Court cemented the idea that authorship is inherently human. Emphasizing the “imprint of the author’s personality or intellectual effort,” mere automated logic without distinct human endeavor doesn’t pass muster. This sentiment resonates in the Court of Justice of the European Union’s rulings as well.
However, UK law offers an alternative perspective. The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 carved out a niche for “computer-generated works,” where human authors might be absent. Their law points to “the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken” as the human authority, presumably the AI system’s developers or rights holders.
But, AI platform terms and conditions further complicate the picture. Many stipulate that users, especially those using the free version, aren’t granted ownership rights over AI creations. Instead, they’re provided limited, non-commercial licenses.
Given the lack of explicit regulations, AI-generated work’s copyright protection remains murky. Some French legal scholars have proposed an intriguing solution: treating AI outputs as “fruits” under property law. Through this lens, AI creations could be viewed as the product of the AI itself. Consequently, ownership might be vested in the AI system’s rights holders.
While the reactions and potential solutions to the challenges posed by AI-generated content vary, one common thread is evident: the need for a thoughtful and balanced approach.
Navigating the New Frontier of AI and IP
The rise of generative AI art works is leading us into uncharted territories of IP law. While current laws don’t protect an artist’s style, the nuances of AI creations might urge a reevaluation. In the meantime, experts suggest maintaining a clear trail of human involvement from the inception of AI-generated creations.