• The Music Futurist
  • Posts
  • Major labels: heroic protectors of artist rights or gatekeeping jerks

Major labels: heroic protectors of artist rights or gatekeeping jerks

UMG wants Spotify and Apple to block AI scrapers

Universal Music Group recently told streaming platforms to block all AI tools that try to scrape data from their copyrighted music. This of course is not a selfless act of generosity. The labels have a lot to lose here. They’re trying to keep generative AI models from using their artist’s copyrighted songs to generate new music that sounds like them. They’re effectively trying to keep a new competitor from emerging in the market. And more than a few artists are singing their praises. Should they be?

A UMG spokesperson is quoted in a Financial Times article saying, “...We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorized use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.”

Fine. I agree that it is important to protect artists' rights. But is that really all that’s happening here? And who is actually harming artists?

The same Financial Times article also reported that UMG has been issuing “takedown requests” and “waging an effort to clear out “lower-quality” songs from streaming platforms, including ambient music and AI-generated songs.”

That sounds like a big steaming pile of gatekeepy bullshit to me. It also sounds like UMG might be the one harming artists in this case.

Should UMG (or any major label with enough power to push the DSPs around) get to decide which songs are low-quality? And is it reasonable to lump ambient music into this conversation in the first place?

Ambient music is one of the easier types of music to generate with AI and ambient artists aren’t often signed to major labels. The few who are probably aren’t generating a lot of money for them.

Imagine that. You are a human who makes ambient music and you are now at risk of having your music de-platformed solely because other people use generative AI tools in your genre. What in the fuckety-fuck?!

If someone uses a piano in a song that infringes on another artist’s copyright, do we ban all piano music? Not to mention the fact that we haven’t clarified which AI models are infringing, which aren’t, and how best to ensure ethical uses of AI in music while not stifling progress and creativity. We do have to figure this out. We have to come to an agreement on this. It’s important.

Protecting artists’ rights is important too. Most of us can agree on that. But I think we can also all agree that we’re in the middle of a weird time. Technology is changing a lot of things all at once and it's throwing us into scenarios we’ve never considered. Legislation is not going to keep up and even if it did, it wouldn’t make everyone happy. So in the meantime, let’s not throw out the ambient baby with AI bathwater. In fact, let’s not throw the AI bathwater out at all — at least not yet. Again, we have to distinguish between AI that is used ethically in music and that which isn’t.

Major labels are going to protect THEIR interests. Sometimes those will align with that of artists. But remember to read between the lines and watch for them to try to use this transitional time in music as an opportunity to take back some of the control they’ve lost in recent years. And watch for them to do it with little to no regard for the marginalized artists from whom they do not benefit.

🔶 Random Curated Links

🔶 Something to make you think

📈 Help us Grow!

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share a link to it on your socials to help me out.

You’re super! Thank you.

You can point people to The Music Futurist homepage by copying and pasting this link:

… or use the social share icons all the way up at the top of this post to share this particular edition.

📍 Other great newsletters you might enjoy.

Where Music's GoingJoin 9,000+ artists & builders getting insights & tools to navigate music's future.