Generative AI and Copyright: From Metadata to Metaphysics

EXTRA The U.S. Copyright Office held the second of its planned series of four listening sessions on generative AI last week, this time with a focus on visual arts. But if the officials were hoping to hear how Congress and the courts can or should respond to the challenges presented by the new technology they may have been disappointed.

While there was plenty of robust discussion over allegations of copyright infringement and whether images produced by or with AI tools should to eligible for copyright protection, one major theme to emerge from the three-hour event was the need to look beyond copyright law alone to address those questions.

Music & AI: Mix, or Match?

The recent release of the song “Heart on My Sleeve,” with a vocal track featuring the AI-cloned “voice” of Drake and The Weeknd, sent a shockwave through the music industry. But artificial intelligence technology has been in use in the music business since before the latest generation of generative AI tools were widely available. We asked Jessica Powell, CEO of 2021 startup Audioshake, which uses AI to isolate and separate stems from recordings, whether fake Drake represents a break from the past, or more of the same.

Jessica Powell

RightsTech: Audioshake has been using artificial intelligence technology to help music rights owners create new licensing and monetization opportunities since before the current generation of generative AI tools were commercially available. Do you envision those new tools also playing a role in Audioshakes’ business?

From AI Worries to API Wars

EXTRA Universal Music Group chairman & CEO Lucian Grainge has had it up to here with generative AI.

 “The recent explosive development in generative AI will, if left unchecked, both increase the flood of unwanted content hosted on platforms, and create rights issues with respect to existing copyright law, in the U.S. and other countries, as well as laws governing trademark, name and likeness, voice impersonation, and right of publicity,” he said on UMG’s otherwise upbeat Q1 earnings call this week.

Generative AI and the Language of Copyright (Updated)

The U.S. Copyright Office last week held the first of its planned series of “listening sessions” on artificial intelligence and copyright, which focused on AI and literary works. It featured representatives from authors’ groups and speakers from the technology and academic worlds talking past each other for three hours.

I highly recommend watching the replay when it’s posted on the Copyright Office website.

I say that not to be facetious. Rather, it’s because the communication breakdown on display was itself illustrative of where the policy debate around AI and copyright currently stands: We lack the critical, let alone shared vocabulary to fairly debate what we’re trying to debate.

Meta Hits a Sour Note in Italy

EXTRA Facebook-parent Meta last month suddenly began removing music by Italian songwriters from its various platforms, after failing to renew is licensing agreement with the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE), the main collecting society for Italian writers and publishers. This month, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) launched an investigation into Meta’s handling of those negotiations. According to AGCM, Meta “could have unduly interrupted the negotiations for licensing the use, on its platforms, of musical rights thus abusing SIAE’s economic dependence.”

UK Government Report: Unleash AI by Reining In IP

EXTRA One of the questions hanging over calls to require generative AI developers to obtain licenses for copyrighted works used in training their models, such as we saw last week from the Human Artistry Campaign coalition of rights owners, is whether legal foundation for that demand exists in current copyright law, or would require new action by legislatures to create that foundation. It’s a political question as much as a legal one. And while its legal colorings may favor the pro-licensing position, the political ones may not. Just how much they may not can be glimpsed in a new U.K. government report issued this month that illustrates how difficult it could be to persuade policymakers to provide any such new statutory authority.

Generative AI Scales Up

EXTRA The Ides of March this year fell in the middle of what turned out to be another busy week on the generative AI front. And, while perhaps not holding quite the same dire portent as for Caesar, the fallout from the events around that date could prove dramatic nonetheless. On Tuesday, OpenAI released its Generative Pre-trained Transformer version four (GPT-4) and an enhanced, GPT-4-powered edition of its ChatGPT bot. On Wednesday, the U.S. Copyright Office issued a new policy statement regarding the registration of works created in whole or in part by generative AI tools and announced plans to launch a formal inquiry into “a wide range” of issues arising from generative AI.

Picture This: With Copyright, Everything New is Old Again

EXTRA: Oscar Wilde once famously quipped, “The only duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” So it is somehow fitting that a historic Supreme Court case involving a photograph of Wilde would become a fulcrum point in the latest legal dustup over the proper historic reading of the Copyright Act. The historic case in question is Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, decided in 1884. It features prominently in the lawsuit filed by Dr. Stephen Thaler against the U.S. Copyright Office over the office’s refusal to register a piece of art Thaler claims was “created autonomously” by an AI engine of Thaler’s own design.

Generative AI: Beyond Copyright?

EXTRA From the days of player pianos if not earlier, new technologies have often discomfited creators and copyright owners, at least when the technology is first introduced. Radio was initially seen as a mortal threat to songwriters and music publishers fearful of its effect on sheet music sales. The VCR, in the immortal words of then-Motion Picture Assn. of America CEO Jack Valenti, was to the Hollywood studios “like the Boston Strangler to a woman home alone.” The MP3 compression format was the bane of the recorded music business.

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