Record labels agree with SAG-AFTRA to protect artists when using AI in songs

The tentative deal could protect artists' rights in music.
Written by Don Reisinger, Contributing Writer
Getty/Yaroslav Kushta

The union that represents actors, musicians, and other artists has signed a deal with several major record labels to put safeguards in place if and when the labels use artificial intelligence in songs.

SAG-AFTRA has tentatively signed a multi-year agreement with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Disney Music Group to increase actor royalties, improve insurance access, and align interests on AI, the organizations said on Monday. The agreement extends over a five-year period between 2021 and 2026 and will act as a framework for how AI can and cannot be used in the music industry.

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"SAG-AFTRA and the music industry's largest record labels have reached a groundbreaking agreement establishing, for the first time, collective bargaining guardrails assuring singers and recording artists ethical and responsible treatment in the use of artificial intelligence in the music industry," the organization's National Executive Director & Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement. "It is a testament to our mutual unwavering commitment to work together to safeguard the rights, dignity and creative freedom of our members."

Under the terms of the proposed deal, record labels agree that anyone designated as an artist, a singer, or a royalty artist must be a human. The record labels must also get "clear and conspicuous consent," and provide details on how an artist's voice could be used and how much they'll get paid for the usage before labels can create AI-generated songs with their voices.

"SAG-AFTRA stands firm in the belief that while technology can enhance the creative process, the essence of music must always be rooted in genuine human expression and experience," Crabtree-Ireland said.

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AI has quickly become a hot-button topic both in Hollywood and across the music industry, with artists deeply concerned that studios and record labels could create AI versions of them to create new works without ample compensation. In 2023, AI was one of the main issues SAG-AFTRA debated with movie studios during its months-long strike. And while details on how AI could be used (or not) in movies still needs to be fully ironed out, SAG-AFTRA has made clear that AI is a topic it won't give in on.

The organization's accord with record labels suggests this also extends to music. The agreement doesn't necessarily stop record labels from creating AI-generated songs. Instead, it requires that when they do, artists allow their voices to be used -- and get compensated in the process.

The record labels stopped short of saying how AI could be used in music going forward and merely said they were pleased to sign the deal with SAG-AFTRA. "Together, we'll chart a successful course forward, embracing new opportunities and facing our common challenges, strengthened by our shared values and commitment to human artistry," the Record Label Negotiating Committee said in a statement.

The agreement between SAG-AFTRA and the record labels was unanimously approved by the SAG-AFTRA executive committee. The organization expects to hold a member vote in the coming weeks to ratify the agreement.

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