Sony Music sends letters to 700 AI, music streaming companies declaring it’s ‘opting out’ of AI training

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Sony Music Group (SMG) is in the process of sending out letters to what MBW understands to be 700 AI developers and music streaming services, declaring that it is “opting out” of having its content used in the training of AI.

Also, any AI developer who wants to use SMG’s content will need explicit permission. The letter, obtained by MBW, also states that these companies may have already violated Sony Music’s copyrights.

“Due to the nature of your operations and published information about your AI systems, we have reason to believe that you and/or your affiliates may already have made unauthorized uses (including TDM [text and data mining]) of SMG Content in relation to the training, development or commercialization of AI systems,” states the letter.

The letter goes on to ask the companies in question “to undertake that neither you nor any of your affiliates have made any such unauthorized uses,” or to provide information on any SMG-owned content used “to train, develop or commercialize any of your AI systems,” and a “description of the manner in which such SMG Content was accessed and/or reproduced and/or extracted by you or your affiliates or any third party contracted to do so on your behalf.”

Sony has not disclosed which 700 companies it is sending the letter to.

In a public declaration published on the websites of Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Music Publishing on Thursday (May 16), SMG said that it and its affiliated companies “expressly prohibit and opt out of any text or data mining, web scraping or similar reproductions” except “as specifically and explicitly authorized by either SME or SMP.”

That includes “musical compositions, lyrics, audio recordings, audiovisual recordings, artwork, images, data, etc.” for any purpose including “training, developing or commercializing any Al system.”

The letter makes it clear that AI developers who wish to train their technology on Sony’s IP will have to clear it with the company in advance.

On top of AI developers, MBW understands that Sony’s letter is being sent to music streaming services in the hopes that they take action to prevent AI developers from scraping their libraries for Sony-owned content.

The company is reportedly in talks with streaming platforms to have them update their terms of service to forbid the mining and scraping of their content.

The letter indicates that the opt-out declaration and the request to AI developers to disclose the materials they used in training their AI is a reaction to the European Union’s recently-passed AI Act.

Among other things, the EU AI Act requires developers of “general purpose AI” technology to keep track of and publicly disclose the materials they used in training their AI models. (Some legal experts have argued that it isn’t clear what does and doesn’t qualify as a “general purpose AI.”)

The AI Act also includes a principle brought in from the EU’s 2019 Copyright Directive, which requires AI developers to get permission to use copyrighted materials in their AI technology, if those copyright holders have opted out.

The idea of an “opt-out” clause for copyright holders has been opposed by some music industry groups, who argue that the principle should be one of “opt in” – the law should assume that copyrighted material can’t be used to train AI, unless the copyright owner grants permission.

“Opt-out regimes fundamentally undermine copyright protections by shifting the burden to obtain a license away from users,” the US National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) said in a submission to the US Copyright Office in 2023.

“An opt-out scheme that requires rights holders to opt out on an AI company-by-AI company or application-by-application basis would not be feasible, given the sheer volume of AI companies and applications; it is nearly a full-time job to keep up with developments in the AI marketplace… Copyright owners, particularly individual creators and small businesses could not possibly meet such a burden.”

WHAT’S the context?

Sony’s mass mail-out to AI developers highlights the company’s somewhat unique approach to tackling the issue of AI, one that at times stands in contrast to other music companies.

For instance, Sony was the only one of the three major global recording companies not to participate in YouTube’s Dream Track experiment, a project to develop YouTube Shorts using AI technology.

Nonetheless, the company is not shying away from AI altogether. Last summer, Sony Music Entertainment hired its first-ever Executive Vice President for Artificial Intelligence, Geoff Taylor.

And last November, it unveiled a project from electronica act The Orb and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, which involved the release of Metallic Spheres in Colour, an interactive remake of their 2010 album Metallic Spheres that allowed fans to remix the music on the album using AI tools.

At a forum on artificial intelligence in the US Senate last fall, SME’s President of Global Digital Business and US Sales, Dennis Kooker, noted that SME had issued some 10,000 individual takedown notices to various platforms against AI-generated deepfakes “that SME artists had asked us to take down.”

Kooker also opposed the view expressed by some AI developers, including Google, that using copyrighted material to train AI models should fall under the “fair use” exemption to copyright law.

If that principle were to be accepted, it would mean that “certain companies are permitted to appropriate the entire value produced by the creative sector without permission, and to build huge businesses based on it without paying anything to the creators concerned,” Kooker said.

The complete text of Sony Music Group’s public declaration is below.


Sony Music Group (SMG) and its affiliates have invested in the development and promotion of songwriters and recording artists all over the world for more than a century. SMG is a passionate believer in the inherent and paramount value of human artistry. Additionally, SMG has been embracing the potential for responsibly produced Al to be used as a creative tool, revolutionizing the ways songwriters and recording artists create music. We support artists and songwriters taking the lead in embracing new technologies in support of their art. Evolutions in technology have frequently shifted the course of creative industries. Al will likely continue that long-standing trend. 

However, that innovation must ensure that songwriters’ and recording artists’ rights, including copyrights, are respected. For that reason, SMG’s affiliates, Sony Music Publishing (SMP) and Sony Music Entertainment (SME), on behalf of themselves and their wholly owned or controlled affiliates, are making this affirmative, public declaration confirming that, except as specifically and explicitly authorized by either SME or SMP, as the case may be, each of them expressly prohibits and opts out of any text or data mining, web scraping or similar reproductions, extractions or uses (“TDM”) of any SME and/or SMP content (including, without limitation, musical compositions, lyrics, audio recordings, audiovisual recordings, artwork, images, data, etc.) for any purposes, including in relation to training, developing or commercializing any Al system, and by any means, including by bots, scrapers or other automated processes, in each case to the full extent permitted by applicable law in all relevant jurisdictions. This declaration reaffirms and is without prejudice to all of SMP’s and/or SME’s prior rights reservations and their respective legal rights, all of which are expressly reserved. SME’s and SMP’s rights reservations apply to all existing and future SME and SMP content, including those creative works that may be identified through publicly available means or listed from time to time in databases such as those maintained by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the [International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP).] Music Business Worldwide

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