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Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, Katy Perry and other musicians sign letter against irresponsible AI

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Image Credits: Dia Dipasupil / Staff / Getty Images

A group of 200 musicians signed an open letter calling on tech companies and developers to not undermine human creativity with AI music generation tools.

The list of undersigned artists is so power-packed and wide-ranging that it could make for a great Coachella lineup — it features Billie Eilish, the Bob Marley estate, Chappell Roan, Elvis Costello, Greta Van Fleet, Imagine Dragons, Jon Bon Jovi, the Jonas Brothers, Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry, Mac DeMarco, Miranda Lambert, Mumford & Sons, Nicki Minaj, Noah Kahan, Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow and Zayn Malik, among others.

“When used irresponsibly, AI poses enormous threats to our ability to protect our privacy, our identities, our music and our livelihoods,” the letter reads. “Some of the biggest and most powerful companies are, without permission, using our work to train AI models. … For many working musicians, artists and songwriters who are just trying to make ends meet, this would be catastrophic.”

These artists are right. The AI models that generate new music, artwork and writing function by training on massive datasets of existing work, and in most cases, asking to remove your work from these models is a futile exercise. It would be as if one of these artists tried to prevent anyone from pirating their music — it’s just not realistic. It’s already possible to make convincing deepfakes of popular artists, and the tech will only keep getting better.

Some companies like Adobe and Stability AI are working on AI music generators that use licensed or royalty-free music. But even these tools could negatively impact artists who make scores for TV commercials or other beats that an artist might license for their work.

Historically, musicians have gotten the short end of the stick as tech gets more and more sophisticated. First, it was file-sharing that made it easy to get music for free; streaming emerged as the answer for that issue, but it’s not one that’s satisfied artists. The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) has spent years working to secure better streaming payouts for artists — the artists in the guild estimate that Spotify’s average streaming royalty rate is about $0.0038, or about a fourth of a cent. So it makes sense that musicians remain skeptical of this emerging technology.

Authors have also taken a stand against the rise of generative AI. In July, over 15,000 writers — including James Patterson, Michael Chabon, Suzanne Collins, Roxane Gay and others — signed a similar open letter, addressed to the CEOs of OpenAI, Alphabet, Meta, Stability AI, IBM and Microsoft.

“These technologies mimic and regurgitate our language, stories, style, and ideas. Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays, and poetry provide the ‘food’ for AI systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill,” the authors’ letter reads.

But these tech companies aren’t listening. You can still go on ChatGPT and ask it to churn out a passage in the style of Margaret Atwood — it’s not necessarily good, but it does indicate that the large language model has ingested “The Handmaid’s Tale” and can spit out a degraded version of it. And since copyright law isn’t necessarily sophisticated enough to address generative AI, legal recourse is pretty useless at this point.

“This assault on human creativity must be stopped,” the musicians’ letter says. “We must protect against the predatory use of AI to steal professional artists’ voices and likenesses, violate creators’ rights, and destroy the music ecosystem.”

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