Something New: Artificial Intelligence and the Perils of Plunder

MBW created the above image using the text-to-graphic AI platform Prompt: 'A robot playing a keyboard'

The following MBW op/ed comes from Michael Nash (pictured inset, below), Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, Universal Music Group.

AI is transforming the ways we live, work and play – from chatbots that answer complex questions to systems that can write passable screenplays to programs that have passed part of a bar exam in the US.

AI is now creating imagery comparable to professional artists — with one AI-generated portrait being sold for £40,000 at Sotheby’s and another composition winning a State Fair competition in Colorado. But what many people don’t realise is that most of these AI systems acquire their essential base of “knowledge” from vast quantities of copyrighted content, without seeking consent from, nor providing compensation to, those who actually produce and own this indispensable source material.

Learning from millions of images with associated descriptions of subject matter, composition, methodology and other inputs, the most advanced AI can now generate derivative output that closely mimics original creators’ distinct styles.

In some cases, this is used to produce outright fakes. Often, it simply produces a flood of imitations — diluting the market, making original creations harder to find and violating artists’ legal rights to compensation from their work.

To be sure, artists with unique approaches have always inspired others to create similar works, explore common themes, or respond by taking an entirely new direction.

Pioneering artists such as Picasso, Pollock, Calder, Basquiat and Bourgeois all broke new ground, with their radical work offering implicit commentary on what came before. The same can be said of creators in every other medium, with this iterative approach based on influence and inspiration helping to transform each respective field over time.

In all these explorations and exchanges, however, the original artists prospered from their own creative work, and the public benefitted, immeasurably.

“We welcome conversations with those [AI pioneers] who embrace the rights of creators and copyright law.”

In contrast to these virtuous dynamics, recent news reports tell of “an investment frenzy over ‘generative artificial intelligence’” gripping Silicon Valley “as tools that generate text, images and sounds” from short prompts “seize the imagination,” with venture capital firms dreaming of using AI to bring “the marginal cost of creation…down towards zero.”

It’s easy to see this aspiration turning into a calamity for artists.

It’s quite understandable, then, that these developments have led to profound concerns in our industry, with similarities being drawn between AI’s rise and the rise of Napster and unlicensed music sharing over twenty years ago. At that time, it was copyright law that saved the day, ensuring that artists and labels were protected.

The industry has come a long way since then, and currently AI can’t legally download songs or rip from streaming services as this would violate both copyright – which enables rights owners to deny permission to train an AI – and platform terms of service.

We’re excited about the ways innovative AI developers who respect artistry can move our culture and industry forward, and we welcome conversations with those who embrace the rights of creators and copyright law. Indeed, in several instances, we’re already seeing that AI can and will help artists at all levels to improve the quality of their work while extending principles of artistic authenticity.

While much of the debate to date has concentrated on the use of AI for creation of content, we’re already seeing many other applications of AI that can help drive artist success. For example, AI can be used to help artists identify audiences in different markets around the world, optimise technical aspects of audio production and enhance the quality of immersive music experiences for older works.

“unless creators are respected and fairly compensated when their works are exploited to train AI, the world’s creators will suffer widespread and lasting harm… those who suggest the interests of artists are antagonistic to the promise of innovation are misreading history”

Here at Universal Music, we’re embracing such innovative uses of AI. In fact, we already hold three AI patents focused not on creation of music, but instead on transforming the way artists reach new fans and sustain listeners in today’s engagement economy.

In all of AI’s various utilizations, promoting artists’ interests is paramount. Central to that overriding philosophy is our belief that unless creators are respected and fairly compensated when their works are exploited to train AI, the world’s creators will suffer widespread and lasting harm.

Those who suggest the interests of artists are antagonistic to the promise of innovation are misreading history. And, they neglect to consider how art and technology have enjoyed a transformational integration through media/tech convergence, fostering a vibrant creative ecosystem and multitrillion-dollar economy, fueled by recognition of the value and rights of the creative community.

To help catalyze and accelerate protection of the creative class in this emerging era of AI, Universal Music Group — working together with leading counterparts across the arts and creative industries, as well as legal scholars, public officials and representatives of the AI industry itself — will explore ways to ensure that generative AI properly rewards the people whose intellectual property constitutes the critical contributing material fueling AI’s output, and not solely AI’s financial interests.

In this context policymakers should approach the development of any public policy proposals covering AI thoughtfully and carefully so that these initiatives buttress copyright and promote innovation, supporting tech entrepreneurs without doing harm to artists and their rights.

We hope the entire creative community, and those who share our vision of collaborative opportunity in the AI technology field, will join us in this effort to ensure that creators everywhere reap the rewards of their work, and that the power of AI’s new and extraordinary capabilities are properly harnessed for the common good.Music Business Worldwide

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