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We’ve been warned about AI and music for over 50 years, but no one’s prepared

AI is capable of making music, but does that make AI an artist? As AI begins to reshape how music is made, our legal systems are going to be confronted with some messy questions regarding authorship. Do AI algorithms create their own work, or is it the humans behind them? What happens if AI software trained solely on Beyoncé creates a track that sounds just like her? “I won’t mince words,” says Jonathan Bailey, CTO of iZotope. “This is a total legal clusterfuck.”

The word “human” does not appear at all in US copyright law, and there’s not much existing litigation around the word’s absence. This has created a giant gray area and left AI’s place in copyright unclear. It also means the law doesn’t account for AI’s unique abilities, like its potential to work endlessly and mimic the sound of a specific artist. Depending on how legal decisions shake out, AI systems could become a valuable tool to assist creativity, a nuisance ripping off hard-working human musicians, or both.

Artists already face the possibility of AI being used to mimic their style, and current copyright law may allow it. Say an AI system is trained exclusively on Beyoncé’s music. “A Botyoncé, if you will, or BeyoncAI,” says Meredith Rose, policy counsel at Public Knowledge. If that system then makes music that sounds like Beyoncé, is Beyoncé owed anything? Several legal experts believe the answer is “no.”

“There’s nothing legally requiring you to give her any profits from it unless you’re directly sampling,” Rose says. There’s room for debate, she says, over whether this is good for musicians. “I think courts and our general instinct would say, ‘Well, if an algorithm is only fed Beyoncé songs and the output is a piece

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