Summary: Artificial Intelligence (AI)-generated music has the potential to reshape the music landscape, offering exciting opportunities for creativity while also presenting challenges in terms of copyright, monetization, and ethical considerations. Both artists and listeners will need to navigate this evolving space to fully harness the potential of this rapidly improving technology.


Recently, a song named Heart on my Sleeve was released across the internet, being billed as a collaboration between megastars Drake and The Weeknd.  Soon, the song went viral on TikTok and racked up over 625,000 streams on Spotify, seemingly destined to at least enter the singles charts.  However, the occasional in-real-life (IRL) collaborators had no previous knowledge of this new track.  Instead, it was actually created using AI by an amateur musician known as “Ghostwriter977” to resemble the styles and voices of the famous musicians.

The song caused a stir largely due to how much it sounded like a real tune by the duo, incorporating Drake’s well-known cadence and The Weeknd’s customary falsetto, and generally having the same ear-wormy qualities as One Dance or Blinding Lights.  

Universal Music Group (UMG), which publishes music by both artists, demanded that streaming platforms take down the song, citing copyright protection and claiming that Ghostwriter977 had used a clip of another song that was already protected to produce Heart on my Sleeve.  

As we have previously discussed on this blog, there are a host of legal and creative questions that are introduced by generative AI, and this situation only further expands the gray area.  There is some legal precedent that grants artists the right to their likeness (e.g., the sound of someone’s voice), especially if the new work is being passed off as legitimate, however this has not yet been applied to AI-generated works.  For example, does this likeness protection extend to a “deepfaked” song, or could perhaps this represent a protectable work in its own right?

Different jurisdictions are split regarding whether (and how) to award copyrights to works that are at least partially generated by AI.  The U.S. Copyright Office, for example, recently noted that “[i]ndividuals who use AI technology in creating a work may claim copyright protection for their own contributions to that work.”  Using this guidance, Ghostwriter977 could perhaps pursue protection for any contributions he or she made in arranging Heart on my Sleeve.  

Harkening back to the Napster era, UMG released a statement asking “which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creating expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.”  However, as we have experienced over the last several months, not only is generative AI here to stay, but it is rapidly improving, which, at least in the music industry, presents some interesting opportunities and challenges.  

For example, AI can serve as a creative tool, assisting in composing, producing, and arranging music, and perhaps lowering the barrier to entry for aspiring musicians.  Further, AI-generated music raises ethical concerns, such as the potential for cultural appropriation, the exploitation of artists’ works without consent, and the manipulation of listeners’ emotions or preferences through tailored music.  Moreover, Artists may need to get creative in monetizing AI-generated songs that resemble their style (the pop singer Grimes recently announced that she would split royalties with users who employ her AI-generated voice to produce new songs). 

Time will tell how these issues will play out in the legal landscape. We will continue to monitor these developments and cover them here.


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