Universal Asks Streaming Apps to Block AI From Accessing Its Songs

Universal Music Group (UMG) is asking streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music to stop artificial intelligence companies from accessing its artists’ back catalogs and using their music to “train” their software.

An email, first reported by the Financial Times and verified by Billboard, was sent to streaming services last month, stating AI services were training on copyrighted music “without obtaining the required consents” from the owners and, thus, infringing on artists’ copyright.

UMG also reminded the streamers that they must block these AI companies from using their platforms for those purposes or suffer the consequences. “We will not hesitate to take steps to protect our rights and those of our artists,” UMG wrote. As of yet, it is unclear what said steps might be, or what the streamers should really do differently. Laws pertaining to AI usage and copyrighted material are more than a little murky so it’s also vague on the steps UMG would be able to even take.

In response to reporting on the email, UMG said: “We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorised (sic) use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators.”

“We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists,” it continued.

AI platforms learn to create by inputting extensive quantities of existing works. For AI music platforms, that means massive libraries of songs. AI tools have had an exponential increase in usage and popularity lately—the artificial intelligence chatbot, ChatGPT, just one example. However, a number of people in the music industry have begun to bring up the copyright infringement these trainings contain. In October 2022, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claimed that it was infringing upon musicians’ copyright by extracting or copying some element of tracks by well-known artists.

Just this week, rapper Drake spoke out after an AI-generated cover song featuring his voice rapping Ice Spice‘s song, “Munch” went viral.

It seems we’ll be seeing the issue in court sooner rather than later. A group of visual artists filed a class action lawsuit over the use of their work in AI platforms training. In February, Getty Images filed a similar case against Stability AI for allegedly scraping its database for training materials.

Major labels tend to have complex partnerships with streaming services—UMG has a substantial equity stake in Spotify—so a lawsuit is unlikely. But that doesn’t apply to a lawsuit against AI platforms, coming from either the music companies or a group of artists and/or songwriters.