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Google and Universal Music Group navigate copyrights in the era of A.I. deepfake songs


As the dawn of A.I.-generated music ushers in an era of “deepfakes,” where the technology convincingly mimics the voices and styles of established artists, Google and Universal Music Group have opted to confront the looming spectre of a copyright infringement crisis. The two entities are reportedly in discussions about licensing artists’ melodies and voices for A.I.-generated songs, a move that could both monetize and manage this fast-emerging phenomenon.


This development comes in the wake of A.I.'s increasing ability to produce deepfake songs that bear a striking resemblance to the works of renowned artists, often created without their consent. The voices of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, and rappers Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. have all been used to create deepfake songs, blurring the line between art and forgery. 


Google and Universal Music's discussions aim to create a legitimate tool for fans to create these tracks, while ensuring artists receive due compensation for their copyrighted material, offering them the choice to opt in or out of the process.

The rise of A.I.-generated music brings to mind the early days of YouTube, a Google-owned platform that faced similar copyright challenges with user-generated content featuring popular songs. A hard-won agreement now provides the music industry with an extra of approximately $2 billion a year in revenue from these videos, a model that could prove useful in the current scenario.


However, the road to consensus is not devoid of challenges. High-profile artists have voiced concerns about their work being distorted by A.I.-based imitations. A case in point is the A.I.-produced song that mimicked the voices of Drake and The Weeknd, which Universal Music Group had removed from streaming platforms on the grounds of copyright infringement.

Yet, not all artists are opposed to this new frontier. Grimes, the electronic artist, has endorsed the use of her voice in A.I.-generated songs and offered to split the royalties. Warner Music's CEO, Robert Kyncl, also sees potential in A.I., provided the right framework is put in place to respect artists' rights.


For Google, this move could bolster its standing in the A.I. arena, positioning it as a competitor against Microsoft's OpenAI, which has already integrated its GPT-4 model into products like Bing. However, these discussions remain in their nascent stages as the music industry grapples with the uncharted territories of A.I. and copyright law.