Record labels gang up to sue AI music generator duo into utter oblivion

Recording Industry Ass. of America orchestrates war on Udio and Suno

Updated Big name record labels are together suing two AI startups for allegedly training their music-generating models on copyrighted tracks without permission, resulting in the software emitting audio that rips off commercial work.

In legal action coordinated by industry body the Recording Industry Association of America, Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal, and others have filed suit against Uncharted Labs [PDF], which develops Udio, and Suno [PDF] in New York and Massachusetts respectively.

Uncharted was started by former Google DeepMind employees in April while Suno has been in a partnership with Microsoft to get music-making functionality integrated into Copilot. Both Uncharted and Suno charge users to generate music from input prompts, something that probably attracted the attention of the music industry.

Both cases focus on the same fundamental charge, that the upstarts used copyrighted music without permission to train their neural networks. It's a similar claim that has been filed against OpenAI, who has been accused of using news articles and other sources to train ChatGPT without explicit permission.

In the case of Udio and Suno, the music labels say they have evidence that the services used copyrighted music to train their AIs, because the neural nets were "overfitted." That's when a model spits out something very similar to a specific piece of its training material, not only revealing how it was taught but also demonstrating its ability to reconstruct copyrighted work on demand without permission.

The labels see this as straight-up infringement, and as such said they've been signing deals with AI organizations.

“The music community has embraced AI and we are already partnering and collaborating with responsible developers to build sustainable AI tools centered on human creativity that put artists and songwriters in charge,” said RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier in a statement.

“But we can only succeed if developers are willing to work together with us. Unlicensed services like Suno and Udio that claim it’s ‘fair’ to copy an artist’s life’s work and exploit it for their own profit without consent or pay set back the promise of genuinely innovative AI for us all.”

The two lawsuits offered several prompts that are said to entice Udio and Suno into generating music that is nearly identical to famous copyrighted songs, such as Johnny B. Goode, American Idiot, and Rock Around the Clock. The AI-generated music isn't completely identical to the originals, though are pretty close with respect to rhythm and pitch, at least according to the plaintiffs, which provided sheet music to back up their allegations.

OpenAI-style licensing agreement may be the best case scenario for Udio and Suno

The music labels are asking for the same punishment for both Udio and Suno: An admission of copyright infringement, the shut down of their AI services, payment of legal fees, and $150,000 for each and every infringed work.

Given the nature of AI training, coming to a precise number on how many works have been infringed by Udio and Suno may be challenging for the plaintiffs if there's no paper trail for training materials. That might be why the lawsuit doesn't specify a total amount of damages and merely leaves it at a per-work figure.

Based on documents attached to the Suno complaint reviewed by The Register, even the minimum could be pretty high, as the suit names a dozen songs that it claims Udio reproduced, which would come out to $1.8 million. However, under a section titled "Sound Recordings at Issue," the suit lists 662 different songs, and at $150,000 a piece would come out to $99.3 million exactly.

Unfortunately for the pair, they may have already shot themselves in the foot. For starters, while Uncharted and Suno executives have talked about their training data in only vague terms, the upstart duo described what they used for training as "public" material. While "public" could mean non-copyrighted public domain, the music labels are skeptical since if it truly was in the public domain, Udio and Suno would just say that instead of just "public."

Even worse is what Uncharted and Suno allegedly said to the music labels when they confronted the AI pair. They both apparently argued that they were protected by fair use, a key tenet of copyright law that allows for the use of copyrighted works under specific circumstances, such as for criticism, parody, and other cases where the end product can be considered transformative.

The problem with bringing up fair use is that it would seem to be an admission that Uncharted and Suno did use copyrighted songs for training their AI models. Though, this is just what the plaintiffs claim, as the complaints neglected to include exactly what Uncharted and Suno representatives said.

The best case scenario for the pair may be to hammer out a deal with the record labels, which is what OpenAI did with News Corp, and is probably what the music giants wanted all along. It just took a couple of sueballs to get them all on the same hymn sheet, so to speak.

But if the music companies aren't feeling so merciful, this could spell disaster for Udio and Suno if the allegations stick, especially at the tune of $150,000 per infringed song.

We're seeking comment from Uncharted Labs and Suno. ®

Updated to add

Suno told us its model isn't designed to be a copycat, and believes the legal action could have been avoided.

"Our technology is transformative; it is designed to generate completely new outputs, not to memorize and regurgitate pre-existing content. That is why we don’t allow user prompts that reference specific artists," said CEO Mikey Shulman.

"We would have been happy to explain this to the corporate record labels that filed this lawsuit (and in fact, we tried to do so), but instead of entertaining a good faith discussion, they’ve reverted to their old lawyer-led playbook."

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like