RIAA Sues Suno & Udio AI Music Generators For ‘Trampling’ on Copyright

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Major recording labels, including UMG and Sony have filed a pair of broadly similar copyright complaints against two key generative AI music services. The RIAA-managed lawsuits accuse the owners of Udio and Suno of copying the labels' music on a massive scale and the labels suggest that they're already on the back foot. In pre-litigation correspondence, both were 'evasive' on content sources before citing fair use, which the RIAA notes only arises as a defense in cases of unauthorized use of copyright works.

riaa-suno-udioAs developers of generative AI models and services continue to progress at a startling pace, it was only a question of when the RIAA would select the perfect litigation candidate, for the purpose of drawing a line in the sand.

Two Targets, Two Lawsuits

The RIAA announced not one, but two copyright infringement lawsuits on Monday, filed against two of the most impressive services in the generative AI music market.

Udio owner Unchartered Labs was sued in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, while Suno, Inc. was targeted in a similar lawsuit filed at the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Several of the plaintiff record labels appear in both lawsuits. UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Atlantic Records and Warner Records seem set for the heavy lifting, along with several smaller but not insignificant industry players.

In common with the RIAA’s claims against the defendants, the lawsuits are generated from common material and in the early stages, they’re almost indistinguishable from each other.

Noting that the music industry has always been at the forefront of technological advancement, “ready to push boundaries” and expand commercial opportunity, the labels say that, since AI technology has enormous potential for abuse, implementation must be carried out “responsibly, ethically, and legally.”

SUNO-UDIO-1

The purpose of these lawsuits, stated separately yet identically in each, is to enforce two basic principles: AI technology is not exempt from copyright law and AI companies must play by the rules.

Those rules were broken, the lawsuits individually claim, when Udio/Suno “copied decades worth of the world’s most popular sound recordings” and then ingested those copies into AI models to generate outputs that “imitate the qualities of genuine human sound recordings” for the purpose of generating profit. (Examples embedded below)

AI Companies “Deliberately Evasive” About Sources Copied

The record labels allege that the foundations of the Udio and Suno businesses are identical; they “exploit copyrighted sound recordings without permission” and then become “deliberately evasive” in respect of what content was copied and from whom.

In Suno’s case, the labels allege that one of its co-founders admitted that the service is trained on a mix of proprietary and public data, using practices “fairly in line with what other people are doing.”

Executives at Udio, the labels claim, admitted that their service is trained on a “large amount of publicly-available and high-quality music” obtained from the internet.

The plaintiffs conclude that the services offered by Udio and Suno would not be able to function as they do without ingesting huge quantities of sound recordings. In many cases, they add, those sound recordings are owned by them.

Responses Suggest Reliance on Fair Use Defenses

Ongoing copyright infringement lawsuits against various AI companies appear set for a showdown on similar, specific grounds; any unauthorized use of copyrighted works is protected under the doctrine of fair use and the copyright holders are entitled to nothing.

Microsoft and OpenAI insist that any use of copyrighted works belonging to the New York Times amounts to protected fair use, with the same applying to other material referenced in a lawsuit filed by other publishers.

Nvidia also appears set to defend lawsuits on fair use grounds, and the same can be said for argument in legal action involving Meta.

After being allegedly evasive on the origins of source material, the labels note that in pre-litigation discussion, both Udio and Suno were directly accused by the plaintiffs of copying their content, but the AI companies’ responses were limited.

The companies “did not deny or proffer any facts to undermine those allegations. It would have been simple to admit that other, legally acquired recordings were used,” the plaintiffs say, adding that responses received were “disingenuous.”

A Fair Use Defense in Either Lawsuit Cannot Prevail

Ultimately, however, the lawsuits note that the defendants did eventually respond by indicating that to the extent there was any coping, that was permitted under fair use.

“[Which] was telling, the labels write, “because fair use only arises as a defense to an otherwise unauthorized use of a copyrighted work.”

As far as the labels are concerned, defenses based on fair use are inapplicable here. “[W]holesale copying of countless recordings” serves none of the classic fair use exemptions such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”

Rather, the Suno and Udio services copy and ingest massive amounts of copyrighted works “to create computer-generated imitations of human expression that do not merit copyright protection.” The labels state that the motive is “brazenly commercial and threatens to displace the genuine human artistry that is at the heart of copyright protection.”

In summary, both services are described as for-profit operations, that ingest unlicensed copyright works, for the purposes of imitating established artists and musicians in generated music, that could substitute and compete in the same market as the originals.

The labels’ claims for relief are the same in both lawsuits; willful direct copyright infringement (post-1972 recordings) and willful direct copyright infringement (pre-1972 recordings), for which the labels say they are entitled to injunctive relief and either actual damages and profits, or statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c).

Copies of the lawsuits against Suno and Udio available here and here (both pdf)

Examples of contentious tracks generated by Suno and Udio (404media.co)

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