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Sony Music slams tech giants for unauthorized use of stars’ songs

Sony Music, the world’s biggest music publisher, has demanded in writing to Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI that they disclose whether or not they have utilized its songs in the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Sony Music, which represents artists like Adele and Beyonce, prohibits anyone from exploiting its songs for any kind of AI development, training, or profit-making without authorization.

Sony Music stated that it had “reason to believe” that the addressees “may already have made unauthorized uses” of its music in the letter that was issued to more than 700 businesses.

The BBC has requested comments from OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google.

Sony Music says it will pursue its copyright “to the full extent permitted by applicable law,” which includes the EU’s impending AI Act, and has given businesses a deadline to respond.

Trained on AI
Sony Music’s complaint is part of a bigger debate that has been raging since the emergence of that latest generation of AI-powered tools: what data were they trained on, and did they seek permission to use it?

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For example, a chatbot might have “learned” to answer in a particular written style by being shown billions of books, while a tool that generates pictures might have been fed millions of existing images.

Similar software exists for creating music; Sony Music complains that it is only able to do so after being exposed to millions of songs, some of which it owns the copyright to.

Google and OpenAI have both developed AI tools that can generate music, though it is not known what data they used to train them.

No copies
In a letter spanning several pages of demands, Sony Music asks each of the hundreds of addressees to send it:

  • Details of songs it owns that were used to train AI systems
  • How the songs were accessed, e.g. through online streaming services
  • The number of copies made of the songs, whether the copies still exist, and how long they existed for
  • Why such copies needed to exist for the amount of time they did, assuming they existed in the first place

It said in the letter that a copy could consist of just a portion of a song, and it was willing to come to terms on licensing agreements for future use.

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But it is unclear whether any of the AI firms contacted did train their tech on music owned by Sony Music – and even if they did, whether any laws have been broken.

Both in the EU and the US, there are questions about whether it is copyright infringement to train AI tools on such content, or whether it falls under fair use and “temporary copying” exceptions.

Nana Nwachukwu, a lawyer at AI ethics firm Saidot, said training AI models with copyrighted music “may constitute a copyright infringement” under current EU rules.

She said “exceptions exist” for businesses with “lawful access” to the music, so long as it is either in the public domain and not behind a paywall, or it has been licensed for AI training.

But the upcoming EU AI Act will change this.

“The legislation will mandate that all general-purpose AI models… must comply with rigorous documentation and transparency requirements,” she said.

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“This includes the obligation to publicly disclose detailed summaries of the training data employed, adhering to copyright holders’ opt-outs, and ensuring that all data usage complies with EU copyright laws.”

The issue will be tested in court in the US, in several legal cases separately representing people like Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, comedian Sarah Silverman, and the New York Times.

Meanwhile, as far as music is concerned, Sony Music’s rival Universal Music has brought legal action against Antrophic in the US, claiming the AI firm infringed on its copyright over the lyrics of hundreds of songs.

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