Google and Universal Music Group in talks over licensing AI ‘deepfakes’ (report)

Google and Universal Music Group are in talks to secure licenses for artists’ vocals and musical melodies to create artificial intelligence-generated songs.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday (August 8), citing four people familiar with the matter, that Warner Music Group is also engaged in negotiations with Google regarding a similar initiative.

Talks between Google and Universal Music are at an early stage and no immediate product launch is anticipated, the newspaper said.

The partnership would mark an attempt by the big music labels to capitalize on “deepfake” songs, which utilize generative AI technology to replicate the voices of artists and produce musical compositions, often without obtaining proper consent.

Back in April, Universal Music responded to the “fake Drake” AI track that went viral, which replicated Drake’s vocals, saying the training of generative AI using its artists’ music and the availability of infringing content created with generative AI “begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.”

If the potential deal between Google and UMG comes to fruition, it would serve as a defining juncture where Universal Music chooses which side of history it wants to be on in the era of deepfakes.

In April, UMG said streaming platforms like Spotify “have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists.”

Shortly after that statement, the likes of Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube deleted the viral track.

For its part, Warner Music has been open to embracing AI in its business.

During the company’s most recent earnings call, CEO Robert Kyncl said WMG is “focused on creating a virtuous cycle where innovation, fan engagement, and greater monetization thrive together.”

Kyncl said WMG is “leaning in” and “moving fast” in adapting AI technologies, both in music creation and distribution.

However, the executive stressed that WMG is ready to stand up for artists who view AI-generated music as a threat to human creators.

Similarly, UMG Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge earlier this year said the company is open to consider licensing some of its sound recordings to firms like ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

“We’re open to, in terms of licensing, any business solution,” said Grainge. “Obviously [within that], you have to respect our artists and the integrity of their work.”

Universal Music’s General Counsel, Jeffrey Harleston, last month told lawmakers that an artist’s voice “is often the most valuable part of their livelihood and public persona, and to steal it, no matter the means, is wrong.”

While some artists have voiced concerns regarding the use of their voices in AI-generated tracks, some have embraced the technology’s potential.  

Grimes, for instance, has extended permission for her vocals  to be incorporated into AI-generated songs, fostering revenue-sharing arrangements.

The artists partnered with TuneCore in June, inviting users to create songs using her voice in exchange for a 50% share of the master recording royalties.

For Google, venturing into music products could enhance its competitive position against rivals like Microsoft. Notably, Microsoft has invested $10 billion in OpenAI, whose GPT-4 AI model has already been integrated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine and productivity software.

Microsoft has also developed an AI ‘rap generator’ called Deeprapper that can generate rap with both rhymes and rhythms, according to a paper outlining the development and experimentation of the text-based model.

In response, Google has also been advancing its own AI offerings, introducing chatbot Bard.

Music Business Worldwide