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December 19, 2023

Fa La La La, Aaaa Aaaa Iiiiii

Holiday Music in the Time of AI

The soundtrack of the holiday season includes a number of great classic songs.

The soundtrack of the holiday season includes a number of great classic songs.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year, after what may have been a challenging year for the world in many respects. One of the year’s bright spots may be the boom in artificial intelligence (AI) systems, like ChatGPT, and how they are changing the ways that we work, play, and live in general.

The ABA Intellectual Property Law (IPL) Section has been advocating for improvements to Intellectual Property (IP) laws, including copyright and patents, for decades. In fact, the ABA has advocated Congress for strong IP laws since the 1880s.

Today, the IPL Section’s government advocacy is urging strong protections in light of the technological developments presented by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML). In October, the IPL Section filed a comment letter in connection with a U.S. Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry (NOI), as it explores a series of complex questions about the cutting-edge of AI and copyright law. For example, a looming question is whether an AI, in itself, can be the legal author of a copyrighted work. In response to this question posed by the NOI, the ABA IPL Section comment letter explains: 

The core question, then, is when a human being uses a machine or device (e.g., a camera used to make a photograph, or an AI used to make an image) in developing the human’s conception, what is the nature or degree of human participation required to treat the creation as the product of human authorship. Our view is that the same reasoning that has been applied to other machines used to create works of authorship should be applied where a human being uses an AI agent or other instrumentality – e.g., through programming or input – to develop their conception and fix it in a tangible medium of expression.

The legal justification for our position is grounded in precedent and the Constitution, as explained in the letter. However, what is the practical effect of this principle? In the alternative, some argue that your holiday season could very likely be ruined by a lot of bad music.

The soundtrack of the holiday season includes a number of great classic songs, including: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1942); Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas (1994); Brenda Lee’s Rocking Around the Christmas Tree (1958); and the Chanukah Song (Adam Sandler, 1994).

AI has been around for many years, well before we all learned about ChatGPT. Likewise, AI researchers have been experimenting with AI-generated musical works for years, including generating all new holiday songs.

In 2016, a group of University of Toronto computer scientists launched a project called “Neural Karaoke.” In essence, the system can generate a song based on any photo uploaded to an AI system. The AI then composed a song based on a picture of a holiday scene. When a holiday photo was uploaded, the resulting AI-generated lyrics started as follows:

"Lots to decorate in the room, The Christmas tree is filled with flowers.  I swear it’s Christmas Eve.  I hope is what you say . . ."

You can listen to this Neural Karaoke song here.

More recently, the company “redpepper” trained an AI system on 200-plus Christmas songs. The resulting song was performed by humans. You can listen to this AI-human “collab” here.

The moral of the story is that these AI-generated musical compositions are not quite a holiday miracle, at least not just yet.

The U.S. copyright system is premised on the creativity and the authorship of actual humans. Observers speculate about AI and its future: will it be naughty or nice? AI has the potential to do incredible things, including automating tasks, helping fight climate change, and revolutionizing medical drug development. However, let us allow the humans to continue being our songwriters. In light of these AI holiday songs, let’s not forget to support human artists and songwriters all year long! Maybe your next holiday present should be some old-fashioned vinyl records. 

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