The Music Industry Strikes Back: Universal Music Group targets AI-generated music


The music industry fired early shots in an impending war against AI-generated music.

What’s new: Universal Music Group, which owns labels including Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Interscope, Motown, Polydor, and Virgin, is pressing Spotify and other streaming media services to counter the threat of AI-driven copycats, Financial Times reported.

How it works: Universal Music Group (UMG), which accounts for nearly one-third of the global music market and thus a substantial portion of revenue to distributors of digital music, is prevailing on top streaming services to protect its intellectual property.

  • UMG asked Apple Music and Spotify, which license its recordings, to block AI developers from downloading them. It also asked them not to distribute AI-generated songs.
  • The company issued takedown requests to numerous YouTube users who created AI-generated imitations of UMG artists such as Drake. Some channels shared the notices.

Behind the news: Music generators like Google’s MusicLM are in their infancy but likely to improve quickly. Hugging Face recently added two to its offerings. Meanwhile, the question whether AI developers have a right to train their models on works under copyright — images, so far, rather than music — is central to cases underway in United States courts.

Why it matters: The recording industry has significant economic and political clout, and its preferences may play a major role in determining whether AI developers can continue to train their systems on copyrighted works without permission. In the early years of the internet, recording companies helped shut down peer-to-peer music-sharing sites like Napster, which helped create the market for subscription streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. The latest moves may portend a similar fight. One difference: While the copyright issues surrounding Napster were clear, they have yet to be established with respect to AI.

We’re thinking: Just as the music industry came to support on-demand digital music by way of streaming services, it can create opportunities — both commercial and creative — for AI models that generate music and form partnerships with AI developers to realize them.