Jul 7, 2024 6 min read

📑 CMU Digest: Lyrics vs free speech; beats lawsuits + more

The most interesting music business stories from the last week

📑 CMU Digest: Lyrics vs free speech; beats lawsuits + more

CMU Digest is a weekly round-up of the most interesting music business news stories from the last seven days. 

This week: Controversy over the US authorities using lyrics in criminal cases; copyright lawsuits involving beats, stems and loops are becoming more common, with Cardi B the latest artist to be accused of infringement; Warner Music sends warning letter to AI companies, as YouTube institutes privacy measures to protect voice and likeness, while Suno launches an iOS app, and Microsoft's AI boss describes online content as 'freeware'; Kanye and Diddy both face more lawsuits. And in case you missed it, there was a General Election in the UK... we've rounded up what the UK's leading trade bodies have to say about the new government. 

Young Thug case put on hold, as BG told to share his new lyrics with US authorities

The criminal trial involving Young Thug has been indefinitely suspended due to an ongoing dispute over a private meeting between judge Ural Glanville, representatives of the prosecution and a key witness. Lawyers for the rapper argue that that meeting was improper and potentially unconstitutional. Glanville initially pushed back against that argument, but then said he’d publish a transcript of the meeting and let another judge decide. The trial is now on hold while that happens. 

It’s the latest drama in the long-running Young Thug trial, in which the rapper is accused of co-founding a gang that went on to commit murders, shootings and carjackings. Earlier in the case there was a controversy over the use, by prosecutors, of the rapper’s lyrics as evidence against him. The music industry argues that that practice breaches the free speech rights of creators. 

Similar criticisms were made when prosecutors asked a court to ban rapper BG from “promoting and glorifying future gun violence/murder” in his lyrics. He is currently on supervised release after completing a prison sentence and prosecutors said that his recent musical output is “inconsistent with the goals of rehabilitation”. A judge said BG’s lawyers may be right that an outright ban would be an unconstitutional breach of free speech, so said the rapper should instead send the US authorities all his new lyrics prior to release, and they can come back to court if they have specific issues with any of them. 

Cardi B was accused of copyright infringement by Texas-based musicians Joshua Fraustro and Miguel Aguilar who say her recent single ‘Enough (Miami)’ uses a beat they created for the 2021 Sten Joddi track ‘Greasy Frybread’ without permission. Their lawsuit presented the infringement as if it’s blatant and undisputable. Though Spotify and the US collecting society databases list different people as writers of ‘Greasy Frybread’, with Aguilar just getting a producer credit, so it could be that the real dispute is over who owns the copyright in the earlier work. 

There has been a lot of litigation recently involving disputes over stems, beats and loops, including lawsuits filed by 2Point9 Records and producer Sébastien Graux, and a legal battle in the Norwegian courts between musicians Noam Ofirand and Fredrik Øverlie. Another recent case saw songwriter and producer Jon Hume sue Universal Music over the Dean Lewis track ‘Be Alright’. He co-wrote that song and recorded an early version of it. The label told him stems from his original recording were not used in the released version, but that turned out not to be true. 

The specifics of these various disputes are different, but what they all demonstrate is that, where beats, stems and loops are being shared between collaborators, all parties need to be clear on what elements are used in any final release, and who owns the copyright in each individual component.

Another busy week for AI news: Warner, YouTube, Suno, Microsoft

Warner Music sent a stern letter to a whole host of tech companies, reminding them that they must get explicit permission to use any of its recordings, songs or other creative assets when training AI models. Similar to the recent letter sent by Sony Music, it also confirmed that Warner has opted out of the data mining copyright exception that exists in European law. It concluded, “We will take any necessary steps to prevent the infringement or other violations of our artists’ and songwriters’ creative works and rights”.

It also emerged that YouTube updated its policies last month to allow people to request the removal of videos where AI has been used to imitate their likeness or voice without permission. This change enables users to file complaints through the platform’s privacy request process and sets out the criteria that will be used to assess such complaints. 

Music AI company Suno, fresh from being sued by the major record companies, launched its first mobile app. And recent comments made by Microsoft AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman sparked interest in copyright circles, after he said any content uploaded to the web should be thought of as ‘freeware’. Microsoft is involved in lawsuits at the moment over the copyright obligations of AI companies, with copyright owners adamant their content is not free for technology companies to use when training AI models.

Kanye sued by yet more disgruntled employees, and Diddy faces yet another sexual assault lawsuit

A group of developers that worked on a new music app for Kanye West and his Yeezy business sued the rapper, his company and his former Chief Of Staff Milo Yiannopoulos. The developers came together online earlier this year after West announced he wanted to launch an app alongside the release of his new album ‘Vultures 2’. Yiannopoulos allegedly said that the rapper would buy the app for $120,000, while some of the team’s members were also offered jobs. But those promises were not met. The lawsuit also accuses West et al of discrimination and overseeing a hostile work environment.

The latest sexual assault lawsuit against Diddy was filed by a dancer who worked at his White Party events in the 2000s. She claims she met Diddy via a former boyfriend, who wanted to model for the musician’s fashion company Sean John. Once she had agreed to work at the parties, Diddy and Bad Boy Entertainment exec Tamiko Thomas demanded she be “sexually flirtatious” and ultimately have sex with guests. She accuses Diddy of sex trafficking. The hip hop mogul’s lawyer denied all the allegations.

The music industry set out its requests for the new UK government

After the Labour Party scored a landslide victory in the UK General Election - with Keir Starmer’s party winning 412 seats in the House Of Commons - various music industry organisations issued statements

They congratulated Starmer and then set out their priorities for how the new government should seek to support the industry. Priorities include clarity on the copyright obligations of AI companies, increased investment in music education, tax breaks for independent music companies, greater support for grassroots venues and the night-time economy, and addressing post-Brexit touring barriers.

With new ministers in power - and many new MPs in Parliament - the music industry’s lobbyists will need to forge new relationships in order to win political support. Especially as Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who the industry had already been wooing, lost her seat in Parliament so will not be part of the new government.

And Finally! MGMT call out Rishi Sunak for using track without permission

As the UK’s Conservative Party packs its bags for the political wilderness, let’s - for old time’s sake - indulge in one last Tories vs musicians showdown, where politicians have yet again managed to enrage musicians by using their music without permission.

MGMT have called out now-former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for using their track ‘Little Dark Age’ in an election campaign video. The video, which was posted last weekend on social media, included a slowed-down version of the MGMT track, accompanying footage of the UK’s armed forces with Sunak speaking about the country’s support of Ukraine.

The American duo told NME, “How many times do we have to remind you jokers that this song is not fair game for your utter garbage? Let’s all laugh at this dingus. Clock’s ticking, mate. Happy Independence Day”.

👉 Read the full story and more of this week's funniest music news

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