Major Record Labels Sue AI Music Startups for Copyright Infringement

In an effort spearheaded by the RIAA, Universal, Sony and Warner have teamed up to take legal action against advanced AI start-ups Suno and Udio

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Jun 24, 2024

Three major record labels — Universal Music Group (UMG), Sony Music and Warner Records — have filed copyright lawsuits against generative artificial intelligence (AI) music startups Suno and Udio in a legal effort spearheaded by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Billboard reports.

The "Big Three" are alleging the widespread infringement of copyrighted music recordings "at an almost unimaginable scale," accusing Suno and Udio, two of the most advanced companies in the burgeoning AI music field (who can generate instrumentals, lyrics and vocals at the click of a button), of unlawfully copying the labels' recordings to train their generative AI models — and "saturat[ing] the market with machine-generated content that will directly compete with, cheapen and ultimately drown out the genuine sound recordings on which [the services were] built."

While Universal had previously sued AI company Anthropic for using the record company's copyrighted lyrics to train its AI model Claude, this marks the first time a label has sued an AI company over actual recordings. The RIAA is asking for up to $150,000 USD per song infringed upon, which could reasonably add up to hundreds of millions, as well as an injunction to prevent Suno, Udio and other similar companies from continuing to use copyrighted songs as informative material for generative AI without consent.

"Building and operating [these services] requires at the outset copying and ingesting massive amounts of data to 'train' a software 'model' to generate outputs," attorneys for the major labels explained. "For [these services], this process involved copying decades worth of the world's most popular sound recordings and then ingesting those copies [to] generate outputs that imitate the qualities of genuine human sound recordings."

As copyright law continues to race to catch up to emerging technology, the crux of the legal dispute rests in how AI models are trained to make music generation possible — and whether that material's use is allowed without a license. 

Metro Boomin's "BBL Drizzy" beat — which Drake himself rapped over on Sexyy Red's "U My Everything" — was reportedly made with Udio, potentially setting a precedent for the future of sampling AI-generated music. Ironically, it was an AI-generated "collaboration" between Drake and the Weeknd going viral in April 2023 that really brought the AI music conversation (and whether it should be eligible for awards) to the fore.

Just last week, UMG announced that it had partnered with SoundLabs with the intention to use the BT co-founded company's MicDrop software plug-in to create officially licensed voice models of UMG-signed artists. However, the public would not have access to these AI models; instead, they would offer "music super-powers" solely to the artists they're based on.

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