Jul 4, 2024 2 min read

Warner Music fires AI warning shot: ‘Get a licence or face the consequences’

Warner Music has written to AI companies setting out its position that licences must be secured before its music is used to train AI models. The stern letter, which follows Sony’s lead, extends to artist likeness and voice, and formally opts out of the EU data mining exception

Warner Music fires AI warning shot: ‘Get a licence or face the consequences’

Warner Music has followed Sony Music’s lead in issuing a stern warning about the use of intellectual property owned or controlled by the major in the development of AI. 

In a letter sent to a whole host of technology companies, Warner reminds them that they must get explicit permission to use any of its recordings, songs or other creative assets when developing and training AI models.

The letter states unequivocally, “All parties must obtain an express licence from WMG to use… any creative works owned or controlled by WMG… in connection with the creation of datasets, as inputs for any machine learning or AI technologies, or to train or develop any machine learning or AI technologies”. 

That use, says Warner, includes “reproducing, distributing, publicly performing, ripping, scraping, crawling, mining, recording, altering, making extractions of, or preparing derivative works of” any of its intellectual property.

Going further than Sony’s letter, Warner also includes a statement about artist likeness and voice. “All parties must obtain an express licence from WMG and any other rightsholders to use the name, image, likeness and/or voice of any WMG artists and/or songwriters in connection with any machine learning or AI technologies”. 

This move underscores the music industry’s firm stance that AI companies must secure licences for any training with existing music. However, some AI firms argue that such training falls under fair use under US copyright law or is covered by more specific data mining copyright exceptions in other jurisdictions.

Under European copyright law there is an existing data mining exception, as part of article four of 2019’s EU Copyright Directive. However, copyright owners are able to opt out of that data mining exception or, in legal terms, “reserve their rights”. 

Both Sony and Warner’s letters confirm that they have done just that. Warner states, “WMG reaffirms that, in the absence of an express licence permitting the uses referenced above, we have reserved and continue to reserve all our rights” in relation to the EU directive.  

While the letter begins by acknowledging AI’s “creative potential for artists and songwriters”, it ends with a clear threat: “We will take any necessary steps to prevent the infringement or other violations of our artists’ and songwriters’ creative works and rights”.

With a number of high profile copyright lawsuits against generative AI companies now working their way through the courts in multiple countries, it’s likely that more and more copyright owners will be taking explicit actions to ensure that their content cannot be used by AI businesses without permission.

Content delivery network and internet security company Cloudflare announced yesterday that websites using its service could use a single click to block all “AI bots, scrapers and crawlers”, saying that “although some AI companies clearly identify their web scraping bots, not all AI companies are being transparent”. 

This comes after UK-based Rob Knight discovered that AI company Perplexity was able to perfectly summarise posts on his website despite him having put in place rules to forbid scraping of his content.

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