AI music pioneer quits after disagreement over 'fair use' of copyrighted works

Ed Newton-Rex disagrees with the company's position that copyrighted material is "fair use" for training AI models.

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Countless aspects of generative AI have caused rampant debate, including its access to copyrighted material. Now, the vice president of audio at Stability AI, Ed Newton-Rex, has resigned due to his belief that training generative AI models using copyrighted content doesn't qualify as "fair use," he wrote in an op-ed on Music Business Worldwide. He joins the likes of artists such as Bad Bunny, who recently spoke out against a viral TikTok song that used AI to mimic his voice.

Meanwhile, AI companies have steadfastly supported fair use (training models with copyrighted material without asking permission or providing compensation), and Newton-Rex's decision marks a unique change from the norm. In his public resignation letter, Newton-Rex explains that he believes Stability AI has a more "nuanced view" than some of its competitors. However, he had an issue with the company's recent submission to the United States Copyright Office, which argued that AI development should fall under fair use.

"I disagree because one of the factors affecting whether the act of copying is fair use, according to Congress, is 'the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work,'" Newton-Rex stated. "Today's generative AI models can clearly be used to create works that compete with the copyrighted works they are trained on. So I don't see how using copyrighted works to train generative AI models of this nature can be considered fair use."

Newton-Rex is a published classical composer and founded Jukedeck, which created music using AI, in 2012. He became the product director of TikTok's in-house AI lab after the company purchased Jukedeck in 2019 and subsequently worked at Voicey (acquired by Snap) before joining Stability AI in November 2022.

Ironically, there's also been an (as yet unsuccessful) push to protect AI-produced work. In August, a judge upheld the US Copyright Office's decision that AI-generated art can't be copyrighted, stating, "Human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright."