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Grimes has welcomed the use of her voice in AI music, sparking legal questions

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly refer to the music licensing attorney as Elizabeth Bloom. Her name is Elizabeth Moody.]

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Experiments in AI and music have gone into overdrive in the past couple of weeks. And maybe the most famous example - a fake song featuring Drake and The Weeknd went viral and was quickly pulled from streaming services after their label complained. On the latest headline-grabbing move, the pop star Grimes announced she would welcome new songs that use AI-generated versions of her voice. NPR's Chloe Veltman reports many creators are taking the artist up on her offer. But the free-for-all opens up important legal questions.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Hours after Grimes told creators on Twitter to use her AI voice, quote, "without penalty," even offering to split the royalties earned by their output, the CEO and founder of Uberduck, Zach Wener, took to that same social media platform with a video. He announced a competition with $10,000 in prize money.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZACH WENER: Here's how it works. You can enter the challenge by submitting songs you produce with Grimes' AI voice, and the winning...

VELTMAN: Wener says his Seattle-based AI vocal startup has already received around a dozen brand-new songs that sound like Grimes is singing them, like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AI-GENERATED VOICE: (As Grimes, singing) Are the angel who can make me stay.

VELTMAN: Speaking with NPR, Wener says the singer's actions represent an historic moment at the intersection of music and technology.

WENER: We think there's a potential for a super, super-awesome future where fans can create these fan-fiction remixes of music and participate as creators, rather than just consumers, of the music that they love.

ELIZABETH MOODY: This is all an evolving space.

VELTMAN: That's digital music licensing attorney Elizabeth Bloom (ph). She says Grimes is a standout at a time when most artists remain wary about the use of synthetic versions of their voices. But like it or not, the technology is here to stay. And Bloom says companies like Uberduck need to develop licensing agreements with artists and pay them for the use of their voices.

MOODY: It's fair that if somebody is stealing my voice, that I should get compensated for it.

VELTMAN: Bloom says these types of contracts are currently in their infancy, and it's easy for creators to get their hands on unlicensed celebrity voices, including on the Uberduck platform.

MOODY: They're taking some risk. They're assuming that they may be able to fall back on things like fair use.

VELTMAN: Uberduck's Wener says he's worried about potential lawsuits, but he says experimentation is more important than having all the legalities buttoned up.

WENER: Things will go best if people experiment and kind of get a sense of what this new world should look like and then write the rules, rather than writing the rules when nobody actually understands what's going on.

VELTMAN: Uberduck has licensing agreements in place with just a handful of artists right now. Grimes is not one of them.

Chloe Veltman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRIMES' SONG, "GENESIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.