Google and Universal Music might license artists’ voices for AI-generated music

Google and Universal Music Group (UMG) are reportedly working on a partnership to license artists’ voices for AI-generated music.

According to the  Financial Times, an agreement is in the works where Google would pay the record label giant licensing fees so that users can use AI to generate new songs with musicians’ voices and melodies. The discussion is in its early stages, but “the goal is to develop a tool for fans to create these track legitimately, and pay the owners of the copyrights for it,” said the FT, adding that artists would have “the choice to opt in.” The FT said Warner Music is also in talks with Google about an AI music tool.

The rise of audio deepfakes in conjunction with generative AI has raised concerns within the music industry about ownership and reputational harm. Earlier this year a convincing deepfake of an AI-generated song  with Drake and The Weeknd went viral for recreating their voices and musical style without their consent. The song was soon pulled from streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music for copyright infringement. At the time, UMG, which represents Drake, condemned the deepfake in a statement to Billboard saying such songs “demonstrate why platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists.”

Now, it seems UMG is working on a way to legally permit the use of its artists’ livelihood. But questions remain about how such an agreement would protect their reputation and whether artists would profit from licensing revenue. Drake and other musicians have spoken out against the use of AI to recreate their voices. But some musicians, like Grimes are embracing the use of generative AI as a way to collaborate with fans, by allowing people to use her voice and split the royalties.

Such licensing agreements would resolve the legal issue of AI-generated songs, but that still leaves the murky ethical issue that is becoming increasingly untenable in entertainment industries. Author Jane Friedman recently discovered several books falsely written under her name on Amazon that are believed to be AI-generated. The ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike was partly triggered by a proposal from studios to use AI-generated likenesses of background actors.

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