June 25

Labels, RIAA Sue Two Major AI Music Companies

AI, Musicians, Web3

All three major labels and the RIAA are suing Suno and Udio, two major AI music companies that are responsible for much of the AI-generated released and at least one hit. In their lawsuit, the RIAA, Universal Music Group, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group allege the two companies committed copyright infringement on a "massive scale."

The labels and RIAA (which stands for Recording Industry Association of America) are seeking up to $150,000 per infringed work. No details on how many works they're alleging were illegally used, but the publishing arms of the three major labels may own as many as 10 million copyrights. 

What The Plaintiffs Accuse The AI Music Companies Of Doing

According to the three major labels and RIAA, Suno and Udio illegally used copyrighted materials to train their platforms how to generate music. While the three major labels aren't the only ones who may have had content used without permission, they own the rights to the vast majority of the "master recordings" platforms like Suno would theoretically need to "learn" how to generate music. 

At its core, Suno and Udio allow users to input text-based prompts and get full-fledged songs back in response. In order for these platforms to be able to work, they need large bodies of material to ingest in order to generate a song. And that's where the plaintiffs allege these companies broke the law. 

In music (and many other forms of art), platforms and other creators need to purchase a license when attempting to use a copyrighted work. In some instances, like on YouTube and most social media platforms, there are "blanket" licenses that these platforms pay. That money then typically funnels down to the various rights holders on a piece of content. 

In a press release detailing the lawsuit, RIAA chief Mitch Glazier says, "Unlicensed services like Suno and Udio that claim it’s ‘fair’ to copy an artist’s life’s work and exploit it for their own profit without consent or pay set back the promise of genuinely innovative AI for us all."

Nearly one dozen other music and music rights organizations lent their support to the RIAA's lawsuit. 

What Suno And Udio Are Saying

So far, neither Suno nor Udio have outwardly denied that their platforms were trained on copyrighted materials. According to Wired, third parties have been able to generate audio that sounds strikingly similar to copyrighted materials. The lawsuit also outlines an instance in which Suno essentially recreated the 1958 Chuck Berry hit "Johnny B. Goode" using a few basic descriptors and a snippet of the song's lyrics. 

Suno and Udio reportedly said their training data is "confidential business information" and instead pivoted their response to trying to paint the RIAA and labels as acting in bad faith. They said their platforms generate new audio. Suno CEO Mikey Shulman in a statement, "We would have been happy to explain this to the corporate record labels that filed this lawsuit (and in fact, we tried to do so), but instead of entertaining a good faith discussion, they’ve reverted to their old lawyer-led playbook."

But of course, the argument isn't that Suno and Udio are illegally replicated copyrighted content — it's that they're illegally using copyrighted content, period. Interestingly, Suno raised more than $125 million from investors in May 2024. 

What This Could Mean For AI Music

Many generative AI companies are under intense scrutiny for allegedly illegally using copyrighted works. This isn't the first time, and almost certainly won't be the last, that a company trying to "break stuff fast" will be brought to a screeching halt from existing industry infrastructure. 

While nobody has a crystal ball to know exactly how this will pan out, it seems unlikely companies like Suno and Udio will escape this litigation unscathed. One potential outcome involves a licensing deal, similar to YouTube's, that covers any label or copyright holder with the infrastructure to collect it. While AI music presents plenty of issues, there are also some opportunities for human creators whose works are used in this technology. 

However, it could also be more like what happened with Napster in the early 2000s.  In that instance, the RIAA aggressively forewent any sort of licensing or cooperations and that battle nearly ended the music industry as we know it (interestingly enough, Napster still exists, but largely as a streaming and white label music streaming platform). 

It's also unclear what the actual economic viability of music generated by AI really is. While there is at least one example of a viral hit song incorporating AI elements (made with Udio, no less), neither Udio nor Suno have released information about revenue their platforms have generated. Instead, they focus on how many people have used their platform to generate a song. 

While there may be a few reasonable uses of AI-generated music in place of human-generated music (like a last-minute need for a piece of generally anonymous music in a television spot), it certainly seems like AI music is a solution for a non-existent, or at least very niche problem. 


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