Record labels sue AI music generators for ‘massive infringement of recorded music’

Suno and Udio can reportedly produce uncanny copies of songs by The Temptations, Green Day and Michael Jackson.

Major music labels are taking on AI startups that they believe trained on their songs without paying. Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Group sued the music generators Suno and Udio for allegedly infringing on copyrighted works on a “massive scale.”

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) initiated the lawsuits and wants to establish that “nothing that exempts AI technology from copyright law or that excuses AI companies from playing by the rules.”

The music labels’ lawsuits in US federal court accuse Suno and Udio of scraping their copyrighted tracks from the internet. The filings against the AI companies reportedly demand injunctions against future use and damages of up to $150,000 per infringed work. (That sounds like it could add up to a monumental sum if the court finds them liable.) The suits appear aimed at establishing licensed training as the only acceptable industry framework for AI moving forward — while instilling fear in companies that train their models without consent.

Screenshot of the Udio AI music generator homescreen.

Suno AI and Udio AI (Uncharted Labs run the latter) are startups with software that generates music based on text inputs. The former is a partner of Microsoft for its CoPilot music generation tool. The RIAA claims the services’ reproduced tracks are uncannily similar to existing works to the degree that they must have been trained on copyrighted songs. It also claims the companies didn’t deny that they trained on copyright works, instead shielding themselves behind their training being “confidential business information” and standard industry practices.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the lawsuits accuse the AI generators of creating songs that sounded remarkably similar to The Temptations’ “My Girl,” Green Day’s “American Idiot,” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” among others. They also claim the AI services produced indistinguishable vocals from artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and ABBA.

Wired reports that one example cited in the lawsuit details how one of the AI tools reproduced a song that sounded nearly identical to Chuck Berry’s pioneering classic “Johnny B. Goode,” using the prompt, “1950s rock and roll, rhythm & blues, 12 bar blues, rockabilly, energetic male vocalist, singer guitarist,” along with some of Berry’s lyrics. The suit claims the generator almost perfectly generated the original track’s “Go, Johnny, go, go” chorus.

Screenshot for the Suno AI webpage.

To be clear, the RIAA isn’t advocating based on the principle that all AI training on copyrighted works is wrong. Instead, it’s saying it’s illegal to do so without licensing and consent, i.e., when the labels (and, likely to a lesser degree, the artists) don’t make any money off of it.

The recording industry is working on AI deals of its own that license music in a way that it believes is fair for its bottom line. These include an agreement between Universal and SoundLabs, which allows the latter to create vocal models for artists while still allowing the singers to control ownership and output. The label also partnered with YouTube on an AI licensing and royalties deal. Universal also represents Drake, whose diss track against Kendrick Lamar from earlier this year used AI-generated copies of Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg’s voices.

“There is room for AI and human creators to forge a sustainable, complementary relationship,” the filing against Suno reads. “This can and should be achieved through the well-established mechanism of free-market licensing that ensures proper respect for copyright owners.”

According to Bloomberg, Suno co-founder Mikey Shulman said in April that the company’s practices are “legal” and “fairly in line with what other people are doing.” The AI industry at large appears to be attempting to race towards a threshold where its tools are considered too ubiquitous to be held accountable before anyone can do anything about how it trained its models.

“We work very closely with lawyers to make sure that what we’re doing is legal and industry standard,” Suno’s founder said in April. “If the law changes, obviously we would change our business one way or the other.”