Music Copyright in the Age of AI: Navigating the Legal Maze

By 
Joey Affatato
Joey Affatato . Oct 25, 2023 . min. read

Imagine you're the age you are today and being offered the World Wide Web when it was first invented in 1990. Understanding what you know now, what would you have done? Would you have been an early adopter and created an internet company, a tech platform, or possibly some groundbreaking music that took advantage of the capabilities emerging online? Or would you have sat on the sidelines and watched the development of a multi-trillion-dollar force?

While hindsight may be 20/20, what if I told you that 1990 is here again, but instead of the World Wide Web being the main attraction, artificial intelligence is? What would you do, and how would you proceed to ensure that you don't miss out on another world-changing phenomenon?

Together, we’ll explore some key developments related to AI and provide you with the critical pieces of knowledge you need to create other unique intellectual property.

Copyright and the AI Conundrum

In the ever-evolving landscape of AI, questions surrounding intellectual property, specifically copyright, have become the new frontier of legal disputes. As the digital world continues to blur the lines between human creativity and machine-generated content, the courts echo debates over what can and cannot be copyrighted when dealing with AI.

While copyright law has been a trusted guardian of creative works for decades, it is struggling with AI’s rapid rise. When you think about creating music using AI, consider what happens to your copyright. In the United States, a copyright is a legal protection granting creators exclusive rights over their original works, including reproduction, distribution, and public performance. It automatically applies at creation and lasts the creator's lifetime plus 70 years. 

Interestingly enough, U.S. copyright law has yet to address AI specifically. The Copyright Office has weighed in on the matter, issuing guidance on registering works containing AI-generated material. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Human Creativity is Key: Copyright can only shield material birthed from the creative genius of humans. If your work results from AI's mechanical reproduction only, copyright protection is a no-go.
  • Human Authorship Matters: The Copyright Office examines whether AI contributions stem from a mechanical process or an author's original mental conception. If it's the former, your work will likely remain uncopyrightable.
  • No Human Touch, No Copyright: If your work's traditional elements of authorship are entirely the brainchild of machines, copyright is a distant dream. For instance, if an AI system generates a musical piece in response to a human prompt, that tune won't be dancing into the world of copyrights.

The Human Element: A Copyright Lifeline

Here's where things get interesting – how much human intervention does it take to infuse an AI-generated work with copyrightable essence? After all, according to the Copyright Office's guidance, the human touch is your golden ticket to copyright protection.

  • Human-Only Portions: If your work includes AI-generated elements but was substantially authorized by a human, copyright will extend only to the human-authored aspects. Imagine an artist curating AI-generated material into a unique, creative masterpiece. In such cases, the artist's portion of the work gets the copyright nod.
  • Human Modifications: Sometimes, artists add their own modifications, taking AI-generated content and molding it into something entirely new. If the modifications meet the copyright protection standard, they're in the safe zone.

The key takeaway is that technology can play a pivotal role in the creative process, but the human hand wields the magic wand. The decisive factors are the extent of creative control and the depth of human involvement.

Legal Battles and the AI-Copyright Saga

As AI marches forward, so do the courtroom dramas. One case that has grabbed the spotlight is Thaler v. Perlmutter, where a federal judge ruled in favor of the Copyright Office, which rejected an application for a musical work exclusively created by AI with zero human collaboration.

While this ruling provides some clarity, it's one verse in a long song. Numerous other lawsuits are making their way through the legal symphony, each with its unique tune. As these cases continue to unfold, we'll better understand how the courts harmonize AI and copyright issues.

The Final Encore

In this legal maelstrom, one thing remains clear: AI and copyright are still uncertain. The best advice? Get a lawyer. The more human influence you infuse into your AI-generated work, the better your chances of securing that elusive copyright.

BeatStars has announced a strategic alliance with AI music startup, Lemonaide, which has developed an ethical AI-powered plugin called Seeds that generates ideas for beats. Seeds limits the role of AI to short musical ideas that spark inspiration for producers, not full production tracks, in order to empower creators, not replace them. At this time, the extent to which the finished track can be copyrighted depends on how much you modify the bars from Seeds after you import them into your DAW.

Learn more below to get started with AI in your music creations.

Explore Seeds by Lemonaide!

Now available for Starter and Professional members.
Learn More

Explore Seeds by Lemonaide!

Now available for Starter and Professional members.
Learn More
Written by Joey Affatato
Growth Marketing Associate @ BeatStars, music enthusiast, and songwriter living in Hamilton, NJ
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