World's biggest music labels sue over AI copyright

The band ABBA
[Getty Images]

The world's biggest record labels are suing two artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups over alleged copyright violation in a potentially landmark case.

Firms including Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Warner Records say Suno and Udio have committed copyright infringement on an "almost unimaginable scale".

They claim the pair's software steals music to "spit out" similar work and ask for compensation of $150,000 (£118,200) per work.

Suno did not respond to a request for comment. Udio said in a blog post on Tuesday it was "completely uninterested in reproducing content".

The lawsuits, announced on Monday by the Recording Industry Association of America, are part of a wave of lawsuits from authors, news organisations and other groups that are challenging the rights of AI firms to use their work.

Suno, which is based in Massachusetts, released its first product last year and claims more than 10 million people have used its tool to make music.

The company, which has a partnership with Microsoft, charges a monthly fee for its service and recently announced it had raised $125m from investors.

New York-based Udio, known as Uncharted Labs, is backed by high-profile venture capital investors such as Andreessen Horowitz.

It released its app to the public in April, achieving near-instant fame for being the tool used to create "BBL Drizzy" - a parody track related to the feud between the artists Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

In the past, AI firms have argued that their use of the material is legitimate under the fair use doctrine, which allows copyrighted works to be used without a licence under certain conditions, such as for satire and news.

Supporters have compared machine learning by AI tools to the way humans learn by reading, hearing and seeing previous works.

Udio said its system was "explicitly designed to create music reflecting new musical ideas".

It added that it had "implemented and continue to refine state-of-the-art filters to ensure our model does not reproduce copyrighted works or artists’ voices".

"We stand behind our technology and believe that generative AI will become a mainstay of modern society," the company said.

But in the complaints, which were filed in federal court in Massachusetts and New York, the record labels say the AI firms are simply making money from having copied the songs.

"The use here is far from transformative, as there is no functional purpose for... [the] AI model to ingest the Copyrighted Recordings other than to spit out new, competing music files," according to the complaints.

The complaints say Suno and Udio produce works like Prancing Queen that even devoted ABBA fans would struggle to distinguish from an authentic recording from the band.

Songs cited in the Udio lawsuit include Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You and My Girl by The Temptations.

"[The] motive is brazenly commercial and threatens to displace the genuine human artistry that is at the heart of copyright protection," the record labels said in the lawsuits.

They said there was nothing about AI that excused the firms from "playing by the rules" and warned that the "wholesale theft" of the recordings threatened "the entire music ecosystem".

The lawsuits come just months after roughly 200 artists including Billie Eilish and Nicki Minaj signed a letter calling for the "predatory" use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the music industry to be stopped.