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Sony, Universal, Disney Ink Deal to Protect Artists Following Billie Eilish’s Call for AI Music Regulation

Last Updated April 15, 2024 2:04 PM
James Morales
Last Updated April 15, 2024 2:04 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Major record labels have reached a tentative agreement with the SAG-AFTRA union on the use of AI-generated voice impersonation.
  • Warner, Sony Music, Universal and Disney have committed to minimum consent and compensation requirements.
  • The deal follows on from similar commitments made by Hollywood studios last year.

Earlier this month, Billie Eilish and more than 200 other musicians signed an open letter calling for AI developers to respect the rights of artists and ensure they get a fair deal from the emerging AI-generated music paradigm.

In a promising sign for the campaign, some of the world’s largest record labels have now reached a tentative agreement  with the SAG-AFTRA union covering the use of AI-generated voice impersonation.

Major Record Labels Commit to Paying Artists to Use Their Voices

The use of generative AI to impersonate singers without their consent poses a major threat to Eilish and her peers. As part of the new deal, which still needs to be ratified by SAG-AFTRA members, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Disney Music Group have committed to negotiating with affected parties before releasing recordings that use AI to reproduce an artist’s voice.

 

Under the terms of the agreement, record labels need “clear and conspicuous consent” from singers or other copyright holders, covering minimum compensation requirements and specific details of how they intend to use any recordings. 

SAG-AFTRA and Intellectual Property Rights in the Age of AI

Short for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, SAG-AFTRA has been at the forefront of efforts to protect the intellectual property rights of artists and creators in the entertainment industry.

Last year, the union secured a landmark agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), codifying the use of AI doubles in film and television. 

The deal prevents studios from using an AI-generated likeness of real people without their consent while establishing actors’ right to compensation in each instance. 

More recently, SAG-AFTRA reached a custom agreement with Replica Studios that specifically deals with voice actors

What these agreements all have in common is that they recognize individuals’ ownership of their innate artistic traits such as their voice or appearance. As such, they represent an evolving understanding of what constitutes intellectual property that is of pressing significance across the creative industries.

Consequences For AI Copyright Law

From minimum wage requirements to parental leave, collective bargaining has often preceded more general legal reforms that enshrine rights outside specific contracts between companies and unions. 

Some of the most heated legal debates surrounding generative AI have pitted developers against authors and publishers, who have argued that using copyrighted materials to train large language models (LLMs) constitutes intellectual property theft.  

If a singer’s “voice” in the sense of physical sound can be considered legal property, can the same logic be applied to a writer’s “voice” in the sense of their unique style and tone?

Many publishers feel cheated by the current legal paradigm. But AI developers argue that modern chatbots aren’t trying to copy the materials they are trained on, but simply learn from them. 

As AI copyright law evolves, differences between media will likely become more pronounced. 

Generative AI is still young. As the world works to establish contractual and legal standards for the new technology, it seems likely that other unions will soon join SAG-AFTRA in negotiating to protect their members’ interests.

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