Dr Luke McDonagh quoted by FT on AI and music copyright

30 May 2023

Luke McDonagh

Dr Luke McDonagh was recently quoted in the Financial Times in a piece about the practice of AI voice manipulation in the music industry.

The phenomenon received widespread attention in April when an anonymous TikTok user uploaded to streaming sites a song called “Heart on My Sleeve”. The song had been created using AI voice mimicry to simulate the vocal sounds and styles of pop stars Drake and The Weeknd. Many listeners and users mistook the song for a real track by the two artists. The song received hundreds of thousands of plays before being taken down after a required from Universal Music, the artists’ record company. 

The issues surrounding AI voice manipulation bring intellectual property concerns to the fore. The key factor is not merely the copyright in the music itself, but also issues related to brands and passing off. There are some relevant precedents. In 2013 at the High Court in London Rihanna successfully asserted the right to her image under the tort of passing off. Rihanna prevailed in a case against Topshop, who had been selling t-shirts featuring a photograph of Rihanna without the pop star’s permission. In 2015 this was upheld at the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. As yet, there is no UK case on “vocal misrepresentation” but it may only be a matter of time. 

An extract from the Financial Times piece is below:

 “If we do get a court case, it will come to whether you’re trying to make money from it, or is it a viral parody that you’re doing for legitimate purposes?” reckons Dr Luke McDonagh of the London School of Economics, an expert on intellectual property rights and the arts. “If you’re doing it to make money, then the law will stop you because you’re essentially free-riding on the brand image, the voice of someone else’s personality. It will be caught by the law in some way, but it’s not necessarily a matter for copyright.”

Click here to read the full article (paywall)