RIAA’s Tom Clees Says Silicon Valley “Has to Know It Will Be Held Accountable”—But What Are the Rules for AI?

RIAA AI Tom Clees
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RIAA AI Tom Clees
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Photo Credit: Tom Clees

RIAA SVP of Federal Public Policy Tom Clees is a featured panelist on Digital Music News’ upcoming ‘Rules for AI’ mini-conference, which aims to discuss the impact the technology will have on multiple aspects of the music industry. We caught up with Tom ahead of his appearance to gauge his thoughts on what we’ve seen so far in 2023—and what we can expect from the technology as it emerges.

We’ve already seen unauthorized viral AI hits like the Drake/The Weeknd mash-up accrue millions of streams on Spotify and YouTube before it was ripped down. The RIAA has even added the ‘Voice Cloning’ category to its Notorious Markets list, where it monitors havens of copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. The new category is a direct response to the ability to take a small sample of a vocal talent and re-create the voice mechanically using artificial intelligence tools.

As a lobbyist and political strategist for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Clees represents major label group interests before members of Congress and their staff. He’s appearing on DMN’s ‘Rules for AI’ mini-conference as a panelist to discuss how artificial intelligence will shape many aspects of the music industry going forward.

“This is an exciting moment because we don’t yet know exactly how useful AI will be for the creative process,” Clees says. “It has the capacity to free creators from repetitive or tedious tasks, and this can give creative minds the space they need to surprise us. What we do know is that AI is being used in responsible and ethical ways today—assisting with touring support, marketing, and turning older master recordings into new experiences.”

“For example, AI has been used to separate parts of old Beatles recordings—with permission from the band and their heirs—to create new and immersive Atmos experiences that make the listener feel like they are in the room with the band. It feels like we have barely scratched the surface of what AI can do for our industry.”

While AI used ethically and responsibly has the potential to change the way we listen to music—the move fast and break things ethos of tech puts that goal at odds. Clees agrees, saying, “I am very concerned that AI companies are winning big in the short-term by engaging in mass infringement of music to build AI systems.” Great for the short-term (and those companies to determine winners) but that’s a net-negative for the industry.

“I believe this way of doing business is a long-term loss,” Clees agrees. “Silicon Valley has to know that they will be held accountable if they keep trying to build business models on stolen works.”

Indeed—we’re already seeing a reckoning as authors have banded together under the Authors Guild to launch a class-action against OpenAI. That lawsuit alleges the ChatGPT model was trained illegally on these authors’ works without their permission, giving the chatbot the ability to produce unlimited derivative works that can mimic, summarize, or write new content featuring the author’s works. Will similar action be taken in the music industry?

The answer to that question and more will be discussed during our upcoming mini-conference, ‘The Rules for AI.’ Want to attend in-person or virtually? Here’s everything you need to know:

  • When: October 25 | 11 am – 2 pm
  • Where: Hollywood, Los Angeles
  • Cost: $35