Apr 15, 2024 2 min read

SAG-AFTRA says “clear and conspicuous consent” required for vocal clones as part of “groundbreaking” new agreement with labels

The major labels have made a number of commitments around AI to artist and musician members of US performer union SAG-AFTRA via a new code of fair practice. They are, says artist manager, Irving Azoff, “a great first step to make sure artists have creative control and get paid”

SAG-AFTRA says “clear and conspicuous consent” required for vocal clones as part of “groundbreaking” new agreement with labels

US performer union SAG-AFTRA has announced a new deal with the major record companies that includes some protections for artists and musicians around the use of artificial intelligence, in particular “digital replications” of an artist’s voice. 

A statement from the union explains, “In this agreement, clear and conspicuous consent, along with minimum compensation requirements and specific details of intended use, are required prior to the release of a sound recording that uses a digital replication of an artist’s voice”. 

The SAG-AFTRA Executive Committee last week approved a number of updates to what the union calls its National Code Of Fair Practice For Sound Recordings, which followed negotiations with all three majors and the Disney Music Group. The updated code will now be voted on by the union’s membership. 

As with recent talks between both SAG-AFTRA and the American Federation Of Musicians and the Hollywood studios, new protections relating to AI were a key part of the negotiations.

The new code, says SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, is “a groundbreaking agreement establishing, for the first time, collective bargaining guardrails assuring singers and recording artists ethical and responsible treatment in the use of artificial intelligence in the music industry. It is a testament to our mutual unwavering commitment to work together to safeguard the rights, dignity and creative freedom of our members”. 

In addition to the AI commitments, the new code also includes increased minimum fees, and improvements to contributions to the union’s health and retirement schemes. 

The wider music community is generally united when it comes to the copyright obligations of AI companies using existing music to train generative AI models. Artists and songwriters, as well as record labels and music publishers, all agree that AI companies must get permission before using any existing music, disputing claims made by many US-based tech companies that AI training is ‘fair use’ and therefore no permission is required. 

However, within the music community, artists and writers have also been looking for reassurances from labels and publishers which are negotiating licensing deals with AI businesses. In the UK, the Council Of Music Makers has called on music companies to commit to secure artist and writer consent before including their music in any AI deals. 

The new SAG-AFTRA deal - which is also supported by the Music Artists Coalition, Black Music Action Coalition and Songwriters Of North America - brings some of the reassurances artists have been seeking. 

Says artist manager and MAC founder Irving Azoff, “The music business has historically lagged behind on technological developments. This time - with AI - MAC, BMAC and SONA joined forces with SAG-AFTRA to ensure that artists are protected upfront. This collective bargaining agreement with our label partners is a great first step to make sure artists have creative control and get paid”. 

Speaking for the labels, a statement from the Record Label Negotiating Committee reads, “We are pleased to reach this agreement with SAG-AFTRA and continue our strong partnership as we enter this exciting and fast-moving new era for music and artists. Together, we’ll chart a successful course forward, embracing new opportunities and facing our common challenges, strengthened by our shared values and commitment to human artistry”.

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