AI threatens ‘lasting harm’ to artists, Universal

·2 min read
Nick Cave - Burak Cingi/Redferns
Nick Cave - Burak Cingi/Redferns

Musicians face an artificial intelligence nightmare from the rise of ChatGPT-like song generators, the world’s biggest record label has said.

Universal Music warned that AI-created music threatened “widespread and lasting harm” to artists and threatened a Napster-style crisis without robust copyright protections.

So-called generative AI models have already caused uproar among illustrators for using human-produced work without compensation to create art. The rise of ChatGPT, which produces authentic-seeming poems and essays, has caused concern from publishers about a tidal wave of AI-generated material.

Both Google and OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, have developed software that creates vocals and music in the style of certain artists and genres.

Michael Nash, Universal Music Group’s chief digital officer, said: “It’s easy to envision this dream becoming a nightmare for the creative community, threatening to upend the entire cultural ecosystem, with creators’ returns diverted to technology interests and financial players.

“In other creative realms, generative AI is wantonly strip-mining mountains of content from social media, personal websites and platforms such as Pinterest. In doing so, many AI developers seem to either ignore the ethics of ingesting creative works to train AI.

“Unless creators are respected and fairly compensated when their works are used to train AI, the world’s creators will suffer widespread and lasting harm.”

Last week, the DJ David Guetta played an AI-created piece of music imitating the rapper Eminem at a concert using lyrics generated by ChatGPT and a voice generation service.

Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, recently declared the software a “grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”.

Universal, whose artists include Taylor Swift, the Beatles and Justin Bieber, warned against relaxing copyright laws in a race to attract AI development.

“In 1999, when Napster sparked a wave of unlicensed peer-to-peer music sharing that trampled on artists’ rights and nearly gutted the entire music ecosystem, it was copyright law that ultimately prevented the industry’s collapse,” Mr Nash said.

“Today, AI cannot legally download a catalogue of songs or rip from streaming services, because doing so would violate both the owners’ copyrights and those platforms’ terms of service.”

Ministers had planned to relax copyright laws in a way that would allow AI to mine works for text and data, part of efforts to make the UK an artificial intelligence hub. But they reversed the proposals earlier this month after a backlash from the music industry.