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OpenAI is the artificial intelligence company behind the ChatGPT and DALL-E models, but it has also been active in music over the years.

It’s a partner for Spotify’s AI DJ feature, for example, and has previously released a couple of musical AIs as research projects: 2019’s MuseNet and 2020’s Jukebox.

With that in mind, CEO Sam Altman’s appearance yesterday before the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law should be of strong interest to the music industry, not least because it included some pointed questions from Senator Marsha Blackburn on music specifically.

The relevant part starts here in the YouTube video of the session. Blackburn told Altman that musicians “should be able to decide if their copyrighted songs and images are going to be used to train these models” and suggested that Jukebox’s ability to offer ‘re-renditions’ of artists like Garth Brooks was a red flag suggesting the model had been trained on their music.

YouTube video

“This is an area of great interest to us. First of all, we think that creators deserve control over how their creations are used, and what happens beyond the point of them releasing it into the world,” said Altman.

“Second, I think we need to figure out new ways with this new technology that creators can win, succeed, have a vibrant life. And I’m optimistic that this will present it.”

“We’re working with artists now, visual artists, musicians, to figure out what people want. There’s a lot of different opinions unfortunately…”

Blackburn asked Altman if he’d favour an entity like SoundExchange getting involved in collecting royalties for musicians from use of their work to train AIs. “I’m not familiar with SoundExchange,” was his response, which is unlikely to go down well within music circles.

“You’ve got your team behind you, get back to me on that,” was Blackburn’s unimpressed reaction, before asking Altman to commit to not training OpenAI’s models on artists’ and songwriters’ copyrighted works, or use their voices and likenesses without consent.

“First of all Jukebox is not a product that we offer. That was a research release, but it’s not… it’s unlike ChatGPT or DALL-E,” said Altman. “Jukebox is not something which gets much attention or usage. It was put out to show that something’s possible.”

Under further questioning from Blackburn about protection for creators, Altman set out OpenAI’s current stance.

“We are absolutely engaged in that… We think that content creators, content owners, need to benefit from this technology. Exactly what the economic model is, we’re still talking to artists and content owners about what they want,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of ways this can happen, but very clearly, no matter what the law is, the right thing to do is to make sure people get significant upside benefit from this new technology. And we believe that it’s really going to deliver that, but that content owners, likenesses, people totally deserve control over how that’s used, and to benefit from it.”

These are welcome words, but for now they remain just that: words.

As one of the leaders in the generative AI space, what’s important now is how OpenAI’s discussions with artists and rightsholders evolve into concrete licensing and business models – because the approach it takes will influence other companies in its sector.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight