AI & Licensing

by Francesca Boerio

Broad Questions?

Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic permeating every industry, yet its use in creative spaces is one of particular interest. In film, TV, design, and music, the use of AI raises broader questions regarding the definition of creativity, the sentient aspects of art, and intellectual ownership. With this technology being trained on the works of cultural creatives, it can push mediums forward — but at what cost to the true artists of our world? It is a powerful tool that can be used to assist artists, but it is a different discussion when generative AI becomes the artist itself. 

If an artist influenced by John Mayer writes a new song based on his influence, puts the song out on streaming platforms, and collects the royalties of the song, the owners of John Mayer’s copyrights are not compensated. But if that artist were an AI that created the new track, does that become a copyright violation? At the moment—yes. 

Defining Copyright

To continue this discussion, it’s important to better understand the copyrights of recorded music. For a single song, there are two copyrights: one copyright on the song itself, as defined by the lyrics and the melody, and the other copyright on the sound recording. To avoid copyright infringement, getting the permission of the copyright owner is necessary, whether that be through a blanket or single-use license.  

So how does this relate to AI? If AI technology is being fed copyrighted music recordings without the permission of the copyright owners and profits are collected on the song created by the AI, that is a violation of the copyright.

A federal judge ruled in August 2023 that AI-generated creative work cannot be protected by copyright law. The courts have judged copyrights to cover only work created by humans. This conversation begins to get more complicated as humans utilize AI tools along with their artistic influence to create a song.

Artist Perspective of Licensing 

The way artists profit in the music industry is by their voice, artistic vision, and brand – AI takes advantage of those assets to generate a new potentially profitable product. Some artists have been in great support of this technological development, such as Grimes, whereas other artists, like Drake, have spoken out in disapproval.

Grimes encouraged her fans to use her voice to generate AI-created music. She tweeted that she approved of the use of her copyrighted music, as long as the royalty earnings on the music the AI created would be split 50% with her. She justified this split by comparing it to the way she approaches collaborating with any other artists.

Drake, on the other hand, was disappointed in the use of his music with AI, describing it as the “final straw.” A track utilizing Drake and the Weeknd’s AI-generated vocals went viral on social media in April 2023. Labels and DSPs were quick to respond by taking down the product from all platforms, raising the broader question as to which part of the industry is responsible for this type of regulation, both creatively and from a copyright perspective. The individual behind this viral track, Ghostwriter, had submitted the song for 2024 Grammy consideration for Best Rap Song. In a recent statement, the Recording Academy clarified that the track is not eligible for consideration because the vocals were not obtained legally. 

It is going to be interesting in the coming months and years to see the way other artists respond to the conversation of generative AI as it relates to licensing and as new technology develops.  

Personal Perspective on AI

AAs a classical guitar musician myself, the involvement of AI in the creative space is exciting, but scary at the same time. Could repertoire be created for any classical instrument with the influences of both J.S. Bach and The Strokes, for example? There is so much opportunity for innovative genre blending.  

On the flip side of that, why couldn’t a modern-day composer fill that same role? It is that sentiment that turns this conversation into a nerve-wracking one, with AI replacing the artistic and creative opportunities for humans.  


By Francesca Boerio

Francesca is a recent graduate of USC currently based in New York City working at an independent label. She has professional interest in music tech, startups, and AI. She enjoys taking on art projects, going to concerts, and doing yoga.