Monday, February 27, 2023


The headlines these days are full of stories about artificial intelligence (“AI”). It seems AI has gone from science fiction to reality in a very short period of time. From Open AI’s ChatGPT app to Google’s MusicLM music creation tool, the future is now. A few decades back the struggle over digital rights and copyrights was a sideshow, of concern only to a relatively small slice of the population. Now, however, everyone is online, which means that even if you don’t consider yourself a creator as such, material you write, post or share could become part of an AI engine and used in ways you never imagined. To wit, several of my clients have recently raised concerns about the threat of AI, and the threat AI may pose to authors, artists (both fine and graphic artists) as well as songwriters and musicians… so let me try to break it down.

The tech behind AI is a complicated, but at its most basic AI engines ingest massive data sets, which they then use to train software that can make recommendations or even generate code, art, or text. Sometimes the engines are scouring the web for these data sets so they can learn what is on a webpage and catalog it for search queries; other times, AI engines have access to huge proprietary data sets built in part by the text, photos, and videos users have posted on their respective platforms. Unlike the music piracy lawsuits of decades ago, the AI engines are not making copies of the data they use and distributing them under the same name. The legal issues, for now, tend to be about how the data got into the engines in the first place and who has the right to use that data.

AI proponents argue that AI engines can learn from existing data sets without permission because there is no law against learning, and that turning one set of data into something entirely different is protected by the law, as affirmed by a lengthy court fight that Google won against authors and publishers who sued the company over its book index, which cataloged and excerpted a huge swath of books. Those against AI argue that if AI is going to use original material created by others then the AI engines should get a license from the original author or creator, or from whoever owns the copyright. Otherwise, the AI engines are violating the rights of the authors and creators of the underlying materials and, even if the result is not an exact copy of the underlying work (think “sampling” in music), the resulting AI product would not exist “but for” the underlying work and the use of the AI work competes with the artists or creators’ ability to make a living.

As of now, the US Copyright Office has stated that it will not accept a copyright registration on any work of authorship created using AI. However, there is still the issue of whether the resulting AI creation infringes the copyrights of other authors when it incorporates the work of the original authors into a new AI work or some sort (regardless of how remote or miniscule the resulting use in the new AI-generated work). Using the MusicLM system as an example, the Google researchers noted that MusicLM did have a tendency to incorporate copyrighted material from training data into the generated songs. During an experiment, they found that about 1% of the music the MusicLM system generated was directly replicated from the songs on which it trained (a threshold apparently high enough to discourage them from releasing MusicLM to the public in its current state).

Assuming MusicLM or an AI system like it is one day made available, it seems inevitable that it will give rise to major legal issues, even if the systems are marketed as tools to assist artists rather than replace them. AI music generators violate music copyright by creating a mosaic of coherent audio from prior works they ingest in training, thereby infringing the US Copyright Act’s reproduction right. Similar concerns have been raised around the training data used in image, code and text-generating AI systems, which is often scoured from the web without creators’ knowledge. New works generated by an AI system would arguably be considered derivative works, in which case only the original elements of the AI-generated work would be protected by copyright (although it is unclear what might be considered “original” in such a context).

It might not be long before there is more clarity on the matter. Several lawsuits are making their way through the courts which will likely have a bearing on music-generating AI, including one pertaining to the rights of artists whose work is used to train artificial intelligence systems without their knowledge or consent.

Current AI platforms are crude and imperfect, but by design AI improves and gets “smarter” the more it is used. AI may still be in the early horse & buggy stage - but AI could quickly advance to the Tesla level. Authors, creators and artists beware!


Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney based in New York. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. 



Monday, February 6, 2023


     These days the recorded music business is producer-driven more so than ever before. Producers not only create the sound bed and make the singer or rapper sound great performing over it, but producers also discover and develop new talent. It is important as a record producer to understand that each situation is unique, and the relationship between the record producer and the artist varies greatly depending on the arrangement between the parties as well as the genre of music. Producers have traditionally been paid for their services as employees or as independent contractors and their contributions to the creation of the sound recording in the studio are generally contractually deemed to be a work-for-hire for the artist or record label under the copyright law. As such, the copyright in the sound recordings is owned by the artist or the record label.

     Many times a producer may be paid a flat fee for his services in the studio or paid an amount that is deemed an advance against future producer royalties based on sales of the recordings. However, the paradigm keeps changing and has evolved over the years. Recorded music is more producer-driven than ever before. Producers now sometimes not only help capture the sound in the studio and use the available technology to mold the sound to be as commercially acceptable as possible, but more and more producers are finding and discovering new talent and developing the artist’s sound and even, in some cases, collaborating on the artist's sound as well as co-writing the songs.

     When dealing with recorded music there are two copyrights that may come into play under the copyright law: one in the sound recording and one in the underlying musical composition or song. Copyright vests in the creator as soon as the idea is “fixed in a tangible medium”, so as soon as the author writes it down or the creator records it the copyright is created. In general the creation of the sound recording in the studio is separate from the writing of the song. This is usually true in most cases (e.g., in the rock, country and folk genres) where the artist usually comes into the studio with the song already completed or taking shape and the producer will then just assist in creating a recording of the song. In other cases, however, the producer's involvement may cover both copyrights. For example, a producer may create the musical bed or track (often before any artist, singer or rapper is even involved) so he also becomes a songwriting collaborator with the artist who writes the lyric and performs the vocals in the recording studio. In such a situation, the producer and artist become joint owners not only in the copyright in the sound recording but also, by current custom in the industry, in the underlying musical composition. It is also true that in today's top pop music world many of the producers actually co-write the songs with the artists in the process of creating the hit record.

     It is generally standard operating procedure when dealing with an artist, particularly one signed to a major record label, for a producer to be asked to sign a contract to transfer any claim the producer might have in the sound recording copyright to the artist or the label in exchange for an advance and royalties. Producers generally earn revenues from advances and royalties paid for the sale of the sound recording (and may also earn mechanical royalties and performance monies under circumstances where the producer is also deemed a co-author of the musical composition). In addition, the producer should earn income from all use and exploitation of the record just as the artist does, whether from synchronization licenses for film, TV and video game use, but also from social media and from streaming services like YouTube and Spotify. In the absence of paperwork concerning the producer’s work in the studio and the producer’s share of income, then the producer and artist may be deemed to be joint owners of the sound recording copyright and the issue is then how to divide the revenues that may arise from the use and exploitation of the recording.

      Keep in mind that it may, in fact, be in your best interest to "get it in writing" if you have an arrangement with someone. This is especially true in collaborative situations. Otherwise, you run the risk of a disagreement later over the actual terms of the oral agreement, and it becomes your word against that of the other party. That is not to say that an oral agreement is not a binding contract, but a contract is easier to prove if the terms of the arrangement are in a  signed writing.

      A simple contract may not necessarily require extensive involvement by lawyers. A contract can be as basic as an invoice, a receipt or a letter describing the details of your arrangement which is signed by both parties to the agreement: who is paying how much, and for what. However, at the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation - all the successful producers do. Your lawyer can "translate" the deal and explain its terms to you, and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your entertainment lawyer review it first.


Wallace Collins is an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer. He was a recording artist for Epic Records before graduating Fordham Law School. Tel: (212) 661-3656;