Former Anti-Piracy Boss Becomes Sony Music’s AI Chief

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After heading UK music industry trade organization BPI for years, Geoff Taylor will now take on the role of Vice President of AI at Sony Music. The switch from the anti-piracy frontlines to this newly created AI position is noteworthy and Taylor's former reflections on how the industry dealt with Napster could prove relevant to AI today.

sony musicArtificial intelligence has the potential to make our lives more efficient, entertaining, and productive. There are potential downsides as well.

Major recording label Sony Music is taking this advancing technology very seriously and has created a new executive position dedicated to AI and hired a familiar name.

According to a recent article by Billboard, Geoff Taylor takes the top position as the new Executive Vice President of AI. The news was announced in an internal memo sent by Sony Music’s COO Kevin Kelleher.

From Anti-Piracy to AI

These types of appointments rarely apply to our reporting niche, but in this case there is a relevant piracy tie-in. Taylor previously headed UK music industry group BPI, which has been at the forefront of the anti-piracy battle for several decades.

In his 15-year tenure at BPI, Taylor was a strong advocate of new anti-piracy measures. This includes website blocking, where The Pirate Bay was one of the early targets.

“The Pirate Bay is no more than a huge scam on the global creative sector. It defrauds musicians and other creators of their wages, and it destroys UK jobs,” Taylor said in 2011, urging UK Internet providers to block the site voluntarily.

This voluntary blockade never came to pass but lawsuits initiated by BPI members eventually got the notorious pirate site, and many others, blocked across all major ISPs.

Taking on Google

After this success the music industry applied pressure to search engines, asking them to demote or completely remove known pirate sites from their search results. Again, Taylor didn’t shy away from making the matter personal.

“[Google] know very well what sites are illegal, because we send them notices, a million a week, yet coming on to search, very often those sites appear at the top of search results,” he said in 2013.

Google initially refused to downrank pirate sites, arguing that this would only lead to a game of Whack-a-Mole. However, a few months later the search engine officially announced pirate site demotion as a new anti-piracy strategy.

AI Challenges

The examples above are just a small selection of achievements that were booked under Taylor’s lead. While this says little about Sony Music’s AI strategy, there are certainly plenty of challenges there too.

Dennis Kooker, Sony Music’s President of Global Digital Business, previously noted that AI is a potential tool to work smarter and gain new insights. However, he stressed that this shouldn’t happen at the expense of copyrights.

“In particular we have serious concerns about the potential for AI-synthesized voice technology to be used at scale to cover songs and attempt to replace artists. This is something that we need to watch very closely,” Kooker noted.

These AI voice models are a major concern for Taylor and his new AI team, which will work closely with Sony’s Digital Business & Legal Affairs divisions. In a sense, artificial intelligence may prove to be a new ‘Napster moment‘ for the music industry.

A Napster Moment?

While some music industry insiders would like to erase AI for good, a more balanced approach may be more fitting going forward. In this regard, it’s worth revisiting Taylor’s reflections on the Napster battle, which were originally published fourteen years ago.

In an op-ed, Taylor admitted that embracing Napster might have been a better option than treating it as an adversary.

“That’s probably true, and I, for one, regret that we weren’t faster in figuring out how to create a sustainable model for music on the internet,” he wrote.

“In 1999 Napster developed a great digital service, but did so at the expense of music, while the music business protected music at the expense of progressing online digital services.

“The invention of Napster and all that has followed may soon deliver its greatest legacy – a renaissance in artistic creativity for the digital age,” Taylor added.

Indeed, Napster paved the way for unlimited music streaming services that are common today. When Taylor wrote these words years ago, streaming revenue was virtually nonexistent. Today, it represents more than two-thirds of total global recorded music revenue.

If and how AI will drive change in the music industry is unknown at this point, but Taylor’s own Napster reflections show that it might be wise not to dismiss a technology outright.


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