UMG tries to block AI-generated music in 25-year flashback

Major label Universal Music Group (UMG) has asked Spotify, Apple, and other streaming platforms to block certain AI-generated music. Based on reporting (HERE and HERE), this is not a legal action, but an urgent request.

AI-generated music involves a musical dataset which acts as “training” for AI’s capacity to create new music. In this context, UMG’s specific request is that Spotify (and others) prohibit the use of music in their catalogs as training sets by artificial intelligence engines. That action would move UMG close to the source of AI music, more than merely protesting all AI music on their services. That said, Spotify’s music catalog is immense, and if any AI engine were prohibited from using it, the resulting training set would be both miniscule and amorphous.

We see the situation as a potential 2023 version of the late-1990s file-sharing threat which led to a spray of lawsuits and, eventually, the iTunes solution, and after that, the very streaming music platforms which the labels now support. Streaming music provides most of the recorded music revenue in the U.S. and globally. (See RAIN coverage HERE for the U.S., and HERE for the global outlook.)

For now, the news is framed as a request from UMG to streaming services. That stage of protest is reminiscent of major-label protests of Napster and other file-sharing platforms in the late 1990s. That tumultuous period eventually led to label lawsuits against Napster users, meant to both punish individuals and demonstrate purposeful intent to everyone.

Today’s news seems directionally similar, and relatively friendly … but also difficult for a streaming service to implement. One might imagine an escalation and changed focus over time, in which the uploaders of AI-trained and generated music become targets of legal action. That, of course, is only speculative futurism. But cycles of invention and disruption remain the same across generations, and AI is nothing if not inventive and disruptive. 


Brad Hill