Major record labels sue AI company behind ‘BBL Drizzy’

A group of record labels including the big three — Universal Music Group (UMG), Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Records — are suing two of the top names in generative AI music making, alleging the companies violated their copyright “en masse.”

The two AI companies, Suno and Udio, use text prompts to churn out original songs. Both companies have enjoyed a level of success: Suno is available for use in Microsoft Copilot though a partnership with the tech giant. Udio was used to create “BBL Drizzy,” one of the more notable examples of AI music going viral.

The case against Suno was filed in Boston federal court, and the Udio case was filed in New York. The labels say artists across genres and eras had their work used without consent.

The lawsuits were brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the powerful group representing major players in the music industry, and a group of labels. The RIAA is seeking damages of up to $150,000 per work, along with other fees.

“These are straightforward cases of copyright infringement involving unlicensed copying of sound recordings on a massive scale. Suno and Udio are attempting to hide the full scope of their infringement rather than putting their services on a sound and lawful footing,” RIAA chief legal officer Ken Doroshow said in a press release.

The plaintiffs say that when they accused Suno of using copyrighted works, the company deflected, saying training data was “confidential business information.” Udio made similar claims in correspondences, according to the suit. “If Suno had taken efforts to avoid copying Plaintiffs’ sound recordings and ingesting them into its AI model, Suno’s service would not be able to reproduce the convincing imitations of such a vast range of human musical expression at the quality that Suno touts,” the complaint reads.

In an emailed statement, Mikey Shulman, CEO of Suno, says the company’s technology is “transformative” and designed to “generate completely new outputs, not to memorize and regurgitate pre-existing content.” Shulman says Suno doesn’t allow user prompts based on specific artists.

“We would have been happy to explain this to the corporate record labels that filed this lawsuit (and in fact, we tried to do so), but instead of entertaining a good faith discussion, they’ve reverted to their old lawyer-led playbook. Suno is built for new music, new uses, and new musicians. We prize originality,” the statement reads.

In its complaints, RIAA included several examples of outputs generated using Suno and Udio that sound like songs owned by labels. One song generated by Suno titled “Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orle” [sic] replicates the lyrics and style of “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. Another song called “Prancing Queen” generated using the prompt “70s pop” contains lyrics to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA — and sounds remarkably like the band.

The suits are a significant step in the contentious fight between the music industry and the technology companies offering AI tools. UMG and other music publishers previously sued Anthropic for distributing copyrighted song lyrics when users prompted the Claude 2 system.

Beginning last year with a gimmicky fake Drake song generated using AI, artists and labels have waged a public battle against companies they say unlawfully copied their protected work to train and develop AI tools. Some AI systems are able to reproduce recordings that convincingly sound like known artists — raising questions about how much control a musician has over their AI deepfake likeness.

Platforms like TikTok and YouTube have also been caught in the crosshairs as AI-generated music has proliferated online. Earlier this year, music by UMG artists including Taylor Swift was temporarily removed from TikTok as the two companies failed to reach a licensing deal, in part due to concerns around AI. Last fall, YouTube announced a new system of removing AI-generated music content at the request of rights holders. In May, Sony Music sent letters to hundreds of tech companies warning them of “unauthorized” use of copyrighted work.

Suno executives and investors acknowledged the possibility of being sued in a Rolling Stone profile on the company this March. For some, it’s simply the cost of doing business: Antonio Rodriguez, an early investor in Suno, told the magazine, “Honestly, if we had deals with labels when this company got started, I probably wouldn’t have invested in it. I think that they needed to make this product without the constraints.”

AI companies have been secretive about what data is used to train their models. OpenAI is currently being sued by authors and news publishers like The New York Times who say their works were included in training data. OpenAI CTO Mira Murati has repeatedly dodged questions about whether Sora, the company’s AI video generator, was trained on YouTube content.

Though much of AI-generated music isn’t quite a replacement for songs from human artists, there’s real fear in music and other creative industries that AI content could cut into their ability to make money from their work. In April, a group called the Artist Rights Alliance penned an open letter demanding that AI companies “cease the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to infringe upon and devalue the rights of human artists.”

Update, June 24th: Added comment from Suno CEO Mikey Shulman and added links to songs named in the Suno lawsuit.

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Mia Sato