May 17, 2024 3 min read

Sony Music tells 700+ AI companies to respect its copyrights

More than 700 AI companies have been sent a letter by Sony Music which demands that they respect the major music company’s rights and seek permission before using any of its recordings or songs to train their AI models. It’s basically a wide-ranging ‘reservation’ of rights

Sony Music tells 700+ AI companies to respect its copyrights

Sony Music has sent a stern letter to more than 700 AI companies basically telling them to stop stealing its music. If you want to train a generative AI model using any songs, recordings or other creative assets owned or controlled by the music company, you need to get permission first. Don't be trying to find any copyright loopholes that might offer a free ride.

Or, if you'd like that in legal speak, here’s what Sony actually says in its ‘declaration of AI training opt out’ in a sentence so long and dense, you'll need at least two AIs to help you process it. 

“Sony Music Group’s affiliates, Sony Music Publishing and Sony Music Entertainment, on behalf of themselves and their wholly owned or controlled affiliates, are making this affirmative, public declaration confirming that, except as specifically and explicitly authorised by either SME or SMP, as the case may be, each of them expressly prohibits and opts out of any text or data mining, web scraping or similar reproductions, extractions or uses of any SME and/or SMP content (including, without limitation, musical compositions, lyrics, audio recordings, audiovisual recordings, artwork, images, data, etc) for any purposes, including in relation to training, developing or commercialising any AI system, and by any means, including by bots, scrapers or other automated processes, in each case to the full extent permitted by applicable law in all relevant jurisdictions”. 

If it helps, here is a summary courtesy ChatGPT.  “This statement from Sony Music Group, through its divisions Sony Music Publishing (SMP) and Sony Music Entertainment (SME), declares a clear restriction against unauthorised use of their content for text and data mining, web scraping, and other similar activities. This includes any usage related to training, developing, or commercialising artificial intelligence systems, by any automated methods. They're setting legal boundaries to protect their copyrighted content, such as music, lyrics, images, and other related data, from being exploited without explicit permission. This applies globally, as far as the laws in each jurisdiction allow”.

The music industry is adamant that AI companies need permission to use any existing music as part of their training processes. However, many AI companies argue that training is covered by data mining copyright exceptions in at least some countries or the principle of fair use in the US, meaning that no permission is queried. 

European law includes one of those copyright exceptions for data mining, but with an opt-out or - to use the technical term - a ‘right to reserve’, which allows copyright owners to exclude their content from the exception.

The music industry actually argues that the EU data mining exception doesn't apply to commercial AI training anyway. Nevertheless, many record labels, music publishers and collecting societies have formally reserved their rights. 

On the publishing side, the International Confederation Of Music Publishers recently launched a portal for storing details of publishers who have formally opted-out of the European data mining exception.

Sony Music's new declaration restates the major's reservation of rights, in the EU and more generally.

As well as noting its legal stance, Sony's letter is keen to stress that it is no luddite when it comes to all things AI. “SMG has been embracing the potential for responsibly produced AI to be used as a creative tool, revolutionising the ways songwriters and recording artists create music”, it says. “We support artists and songwriters taking the lead in embracing new technologies in support of their art”. 

The music industry is pretty much united when it comes to the copyright obligations of AI companies. However, within the industry many artists and songwriters have also been calling on their labels and publishers to likewise seek consent before including their music in any licensing deals with the music industry.

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