This is The Legal Beat, a weekly newsletter about music law from Billboard Pro, offering you a one-stop cheat sheet of big new cases, important rulings and all the fun stuff in between.
This week: A fake Drake song featuring AI-generated vocals highlights legal uncertainty over artificial intelligence; the rapper Cam’ron becomes the latest music star to face a copyright lawsuit over using a photo of himself; Megan Thee Stallion makes bold new accusations in her long legal battle against her record label; and much more.
THE BIG STORY: Fake Drake Debacle & The AI Fight Ahead
A new song featuring AI-generated fake vocals from Drake and The Weeknd went sensationally viral over the weekend, underscoring growing concerns over the impact of artificial intelligence on the music industry and highlighting the legal uncertainties that surround the new technology.
The track, “Heart On My Sleeve,” featured voices that were uncannily similar to those of the two superstars — a trick the anonymous creator says was accomplished by using artificial intelligence. By Monday evening, the track had been mostly pulled from the internet, but not before racking up hundreds of thousands of spins on streaming platforms and millions of views on social media.
As evidenced by the speedy removal, artists and labels already have pretty good legal tools to police something as blatant as “Heart On My Sleeve.” Experts say the song potentially violates the rights of publicity of the two stars by mimicking their voices, and that it also possibly used an unauthorized sample of Metro Boomin’s producer tag.
But the incident came just days after news broke that Universal Music Group had asked streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to stop AI companies from accessing the label’s copyrighted songs to “train” their machines, and that issue poses far bigger questions — about the extent that AI can be legally used to create new music that isn’t a clear copycat of specific superstars — with fewer clear answers.
For a full breakdown of all this week’s developments, including expert commentary on the issue, go read our entire story here.
THE OTHER BIG STORY: Cam’ron Copyright Conundrum
Back in 2003, a photographer snapped a shot of the rapper Cam’ron at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Show in New York, where he wore a pink fur coat and hat while holding a matching flip phone. Pink would go on to become a signature color for the rapper, who released a bright pink collab sneaker with Reebok in 2016; GQ later ran an entire article called “Cam’ron Is Very Particular When It Comes to the Color Pink,” underneath the same 2003 image of his “iconic pink mink coat.”
Now, twenty years later, that image has become something of a problem for Cam.
In a lawsuit filed last week, the photographer who snapped it claimed that the rapper had slapped the image on a huge range of commercial products sold by his Dipset Couture brand, ranging from t-shirts to shower curtains to decorative pillows to socks — all without getting any kind of license from her.
These kinds of cases happen a surprising amount. Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber and a slew of other stars have also been sued in recent years after they re-used photos of themselves snapped by someone else. That’s because the copyright to such a photo is owned by the photographer, not the person featured in it.
But the lawsuit against Cam’ron is potentially more serious than those earlier cases. To understand why, go read our full story, complete with all the legal documents filed in the case.
Other top stories this week…
LIVE NATION WINS FESTIVAL CASE – A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit claiming Live Nation was “stringing along” a country singer when the company considered — but ultimately passed on — her proposal for an all-female country music festival in Chicago. “An expression of interest in participating in a project is not a promise to do so,” the court said.
NICK CARTER FACING NEW ABUSE LAWSUIT – Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter was hit with another sexual abuse lawsuit, this time from Melissa Schuman — a former member of teen-pop group Dream who has long claimed the singer assaulted her.
MEGAN’S NEW ATTACK – Megan Thee Stallion hurled bold new accusations at her record label 1501 Certified Entertainment, claiming the company’s leaders are trying to make themselves “judgment-proof” by draining 1501’s bank accounts.
REMEMBER NFTS? – Lil Yachty reached a settlement with a non-fungible token (NFT) seller called Opulous over allegations that the company used his name and likeness without permission to raise over $6.5 million in venture capital funds.
ORCHESTRA SHOWDOWN IN PHILLY – Citing “unlawful, anticompetitive and predatory conduct,” the Philly Pops accused the Philadelphia Orchestra of violating federal antitrust laws by abusing its control over local concert venues and ticketing services to try to crush its smaller rival.