Singers and stars try to pump the brakes on AI, as 200 artists including Billie Eilish and Jon Bon Jovi sign open letter denouncing unmitigated innovation

Those TikToks of Spongebob covering Summertime Sadness or Shrek belting the Eye of the Tiger aren’t just annoying, they’re also a potential blow to the music industry. That’s at least if you care about what top singers have to say on the matter. In what would make for a killer but confusing festival lineup, more than 200 artists signed an open letter pleading with tech platforms to monitor AI’s infringement on the creative arts. 

Nicki Minaj, the estate of Bob Marley, Smokey Robinson, Sheryl Crow, and other heavy hitters like Elvis Costello, and Norah Jones were among the signatories of the letter written by the Artist Rights Alliance. As AI shoots off, people from the office to the world of Hollywood have voiced concerns about how unmonitored AI will affect their industries and the world at large. The music industry is no exception, as AI’s infiltration has sparked debates regarding the ethics and legality of the wave of mimicry  sweeping artists’ catalogs. It’s not the first time musicians have pushed back against AI, but now stars are getting more pointed, and calling Silicon Valley out specifically. “This assault on human creativity must be stopped,” says the letter, calling for protection from AI.

“When used irresponsibly, AI poses enormous threats to our ability to protect our privacy, our identities, our music and our livelihoods,” states the petition. “Some of the biggest and most powerful companies are, without permission, using our work to train AI models.” The artists note that this concentrated plan to replace musicians with AI-created songs will “substantially dilute the royalty pools,” further destabilizing many working musicians who are already struggling to stay afloat. In short, they warn of a future that is “catastrophic.”

The movie industry has also recently fought against AI’s invasion, as SAG-AFTRA remained on strike and held off signing a contract until what was known as the “zombie clause,” wherein an actor’s likeness would be scanned and used in future projects, was finalized. The union fought for language that would need actors’ consent, require payment for their scanned likeness, and install sanctions for using the likeness of celebrities passed such as getting the estate’s sign-off.

The letter comes just after news spread that ChatGPT creators OpenAI now have a voice-cloning tool that needs only a 15-second sample of audio to replicate a person’s voice. OpenAI has held back on publicly releasing the technology due to safety concerns ahead of the election. 

The pledge’s authors, speaking directly to the tech world, ask for similar clauses to those achieved in SAG-AFTRA’s agreement. “We call on all AI developers, technology companies, platforms and digital music services to pledge that they will not develop or deploy AI music- generation technology, content or tools that undermine or replace the human artistry of songwriters and artists or deny us fair compensation for our work,” say the artists, citing concerns about how AI could “infringe upon and devalue the rights” of musicians. A couple of the signatories have passed away, as the estates of Bob Marley and Frank Sinatra signed said letter. Of course, these artists have a larger discography and are likely more ripe for being zombified in some Coachella performance like Tupac or just subjected to AI mimicry. 

But artists aren’t outright asking for AI to stop; that’s likely fruitless anyway. The signatories clarify that “when used responsibly, AI has enormous potential to advance human creativity and in a manner that enables the development and growth of new and exciting experiences for music fans everywhere.” 

 “We’re not thinking about legislation here,” Jen Jacobsen, executive director of The Artist Rights Alliance, told Axios. Rather they’re “calling on our technology and digital partners to work with us to make this a responsible marketplace.” A couple of years ago, the founder of generative AI firm Midjourney, David Holz, predicted to Forbes that this AI creep into artistry could go two ways. “One way is to try to provide the same level of content that people consume at a lower price,” he said, and “the other way to go about it is to build wildly better content at the prices that we’re already willing to spend.” Adding that consumers will likely choose better instead of  cheaper content, he explains that “some people will try to cut artists out. They will try to make something similar at a lower cost, and I think they will fail in the market”

And we’re entering greyer areas with every AI development that stirs unprecedented legal debates.“Anyone who tells you that the legal implications are clear, one way or the other, is making stuff up,” Neil Turkewitz, a former Recording Industry Association of America executive and leading expert on generative AI, told Fortune’s Jeremy Kahn. So far, Tennessee was the first state to block this development, as Governor Bill Lee signed off on legislation in March that was designed to protect musicians’ intellectual property against AI’s invasion. 

Without many legal hurdles, software developers have taken to the ground running. In the same Forbes interview, Holz admitted Midjourney didn’t ask for permission from artists to use their work. “There isn’t really a way to get a hundred million images and know where they’re coming from,” he said.

That type of behavior appears to be not isolated to the world of visual arts. “Unfortunately, some platforms and developers are employing AI to sabotage creativity and undermine artists, songwriters, musicians and rightsholders,” says the letter.

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