Music AI company Udio has insisted that its technology is trained by “listening” to existing recordings and that its AI model would never “reproduce” any of those tracks. 

Those statements were made in a blog post published yesterday, in response to the lawsuit filed against the start-up by the record companies earlier this week - even though it doesn’t specifically mention the litigation. Commenting on the blog post, record label trade group RIAA says Udio is “attempting to construct an alternate reality”. 

“We know that many musicians - especially the next generation - are eager to use AI in their creative workflows”, Udio writes, trying to position itself as some kind of artist champion now battling the big corporations of the record industry. “The future of music will see more creative expression than ever before”, it adds. “Let us use this watershed moment in technology to expand the circle of creators, empower artists and celebrate human creativity”. 

However, in the eyes of the RIAA, Udio is no artist champion. Dubbing the blog post a “meandering response”, the trade group says that “Udio is attempting to construct an alternate reality where being pro-artist means stealing artists’ work for profit. In the reality everyone else is living in, artist advocate groups oppose what Udio is doing and strongly support these lawsuits”. 

The RIAA has coordinated the lawsuit against Udio, which accuses the AI company of copyright infringement on the basis it ingested - and therefore copied - large quantities of existing sound recordings as part of its training process. 

Udio is keen to stress that tracks generated by its AI model are not copies of any of the recordings in the training dataset. The RIAA disagrees, insisting that Udio has been shown to generate tracks that sound “strikingly similar” to existing recordings. Although in legal terms, the labels’ lawsuit isn’t claiming that the tracks outputted by Udio are infringing their copyrights. The core allegation is that the ingestion of recordings was in itself copyright infringement. 

Countering that claim, Udio likes to think that its technology ‘listens’ to the existing music rather than ‘copying’ it. “Just as students listen to music and study scores”, it writes, “our model has ‘listened’ to and learned from a large collection of recorded music”. It then adds, “The goal of model training is to develop an understanding of musical ideas - the basic building blocks of musical expression that are owned by no one”. 

For the music industry, the idea that AI models are ‘listening’ to music is misleading semantics, and the fact the AI learns by processing short segments of tracks is a mere technicality. Existing recordings are being copied, the labels will insist in court, and those copies need to be licensed. 

The RIAA notes with interest Udio’s claim that its model listened to “a large collection of recorded music”. That means, as far as the labels are concerned, Udio copied without licence a large collection of music. That, the organisation says, is a “startling admission of illegal and unethical conduct”.

The labels are also suing AI company Suno and, in its response to the litigation, it said the record labels had “reverted to their old lawyer-led playbook”, referencing the legal battles between the record industry and digital start-ups in the early days of digital music. Udio’s blog post is not quite so outspoken, but makes a similar point. 

“Virtually every new technological development in music has initially been greeted with apprehension, but has ultimately proven to be a boon for artists, record companies, music publishers, technologists, and the public at large”, the blog post states. “Synthesisers, drum machines, digital recording technology and the sound recording itself are all examples of once-controversial music creation tools that were feared in their early days”. 

“Yet each of these innovations ultimately expanded music as an art and as a business”, it goes on, “leading to entirely new genres of music and billions of dollars in the pockets of artists, songwriters, and the record labels and music publishers who profit from their creations”. 

Of course, the music industry has been very keen to stress that it is already embracing music-making AI and collaborating with music AI companies, but only those that seek licences from record labels and music publishers. 

“Supporting real creativity means getting permission before using someone’s work and developing technology that partners with and supports human artists instead of cutting them out and replacing them”, the RIAA concludes. “Music companies have already struck multiple partnerships with start-ups, entrepreneurs and others with responsible applications of AI”.

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