OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Says Creators ‘Need to Benefit’ from AI — But His Company Is ‘Still Talking to Artists and Content Owners About What They Want’

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Photo Credit: Jonathan Kemper

With artificial intelligence continuing to play an increasingly significant music industry role, Sam Altman has communicated that members of the creative community “deserve control over how their creations are used” and “need to benefit” from AI. However, the OpenAI CEO opted not to offer concrete solutions regarding potential compensation for musicians.

Altman made these and other noteworthy remarks during a recent hours-long Senate hearing on regulating artificial intelligence. Specifically in the music space, AI is powering all manner of unauthorized soundalike tracks, a growing collection of artist- (and label-) approved soundalike releases, and, perhaps most consequentially, millions upon millions of original songs.

It’s against this backdrop that the major labels are reportedly coordinating on an AI “takedown notice” system, with the European Union prepping a gargantuan “AI Act” that some MEPs say would effectively police the unprecedented technology.

Meanwhile, the rapidly evolving situation prompted Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) – who grilled Live Nation CFO Joe Berchtold towards 2023’s beginning and is a co-sponsor of the industry-favored American Music Fairness Act as well as the Spotify-endorsed Open App Markets Act – to ask about how musicians can control whether their work is used to train AI models.

“And I want to come to you on music and content creation,” said Senator Blackburn, “because we’ve got a lot of songwriters and artists – I think we have the best creative community on the face of the Earth. They’re in Tennessee. And they should be able to decide if their copyrighted songs and images are going to be used to train these models.

“And I’m concerned about OpenAI’s Jukebox. It offers some re-renditions in the style of Garth Brooks, which suggests that OpenAI is trained on Garth Brooks songs. I went in this weekend and I said, ‘Write me a song that sounds like Garth Brooks.’ And it gave me a different version of ‘Simple Man.’ So it’s interesting that it would do that.

“But you’re training it on these copyrighted songs, these MIDI files, these sound technologies. So, as you do this, who owns the rights to that AI-generated material? And using your technology, could I remake a song, insert content from my favorite artist, and then own the creative rights to that song?”

“Thank you, senator,” responded the former Reddit head Altman. “This is an area of great interest to us. I would say, first of all, we think that creators deserve control over how their creations are used and what happens sort of beyond the point of them releasing it into the world. Second, I think that we need to figure out new ways with this new technology that creators can win, succeed, [and] have a vibrant life. And I’m optimistic that this will present it.”

When pressed by the lawmaker about how his company would “compensate the artist,” Altman proceeded to indicate that OpenAI is working with musicians at present and to disclose that he’s unfamiliar with SoundExchange.

“Can you commit, as you’ve done with consumer data, not to train ChatGPT, OpenAI, Jukebox, or other AI models on artists’ and songwriters’ copyrighted works? Or use their voices and their likenesses without first receiving their consent?” Senator Blackburn then asked.

Altman in response dove into the classification specifics of Jukebox (“not a product we offer, that was a research release”), prompting the senator to remind him that “we’ve lived through Napster,” which, she reiterated, “really cost a lot of artists a lot of money.”

Closing out her time, Senator Blackburn shifted the focus to potential protections for creators, including in terms of compensation for AI music resulting from protected media. While Altman’s answer to the latter was cut short as another lawmaker began asking questions about different artificial intelligence topics, the OpenAI head did relay that “content creators…need to benefit from this technology.”

“Again, to reiterate my earlier point,” said Altman, “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. 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.”