The RIAA and Major Labels Sue AI-Music Startups

Lewis Donovan
8 min readJun 25, 2024

A Deep Dive into the Ethical Implications of AI Training on Copyrighted Material


The music and tech industries are once again gearing-up for a dramatic showdown. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), along with the three major record label groups — Sony, Universal, and Warner — have filed lawsuits against AI-music startups Udio and Suno.

The allegations center on these startups training their AI models on copyrighted music without compensating the songwriters, artists, or their respective rightsholders. This lawsuit is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the ethical use of copyrighted material in AI training. In this blog post, we will explore the history of this issue, examine previous notable cases, delve into the specifics of these new lawsuits, and discuss the broader implications for both startups and the music industry.

A Brief History of the Music Industry Suing New Tech

The music industry has a long history of adversarial relationships with new technologies. The job of any record label is to exploit its catalogue for the most revenue possible, and protect themselves and their artists from anyone seeking to exploit their works without paying.

Part of that protection, inevitably, will come in the form of lawsuits, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As we will see, labels (particularly the majors) do a very good job of utilising lawsuits to protect their songs.

However, unlike the tech sector, which thrives on innovation, the music industry has often been reactive (via lawsuits and copyright protections) rather than proactive (via understanding the movement of the market and innovating to it).

Napster: In the late 1990s, Napster revolutionised music sharing, allowing users to share MP3 files freely. The major record labels, seeing this as a direct threat to their revenue, sued Napster for copyright infringement. The ensuing legal battle led to Napster’s shutdown, but it also paved the way for other peer-to-peer networks and highlighted the industry’s initial resistance to digital transformation.

Spotify: The story of Spotify is somewhat different. Initially met with resistance, Spotify eventually negotiated licensing deals with the major labels, offering a legal streaming alternative that benefited both parties. This move demonstrated that with the right approach, technology and the music industry could coexist. In 2006, the music industry walked away with a deal that meant Spotify were paying about 75% of streaming revenue back to rights holders, and the majors walked away with a combined 18% of equity in Spotify on top of that, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Spotify were not profitable until 2019, a full 13 years later.

Universal vs. Anthropic: More recently, Universal Music Group (UMG) has taken legal action against Anthropic, an AI startup backed by Amazon, for allegedly training Claude, its generative LLM, on copyrighted lyrics without permission. UMG accuses Anthropic of wilful copyright infringement, which raises questions about the legality of using copyrighted material to train AI systems, while Anthropic claim that Universal “engineer[ed] the facts on which this lawsuit is based” by inducing Claude to regurgitate copyrighted material. This case highlights the ongoing tension between protecting intellectual property and fostering technological innovation.

While I can certainly see the industry’s point of view in these cases, but it’s an interesting stance to take with innovation in your own sector. Whereas most multinationals in other sectors are investing in anything new and clever, the music industry tend to want to just put it out of business and forget about it. Around the peak of the piracy crisis, various key players from across the music industry held a crisis meeting and, famously, one of the suggestions was lobbying to ban the internet.

This stance does beg the question: How much more value would the music industry generate if it diverted a chunk of its legal budget into creating new tech and/or fostering relationships with music tech startups?

The Historical Context of AI and Copyright

AI’s relationship with copyright has always been fraught with ethical and legal challenges. Early AI models were trained on vast amounts of data, including copyrighted material, without permission. This practice, while common, sparked significant debate over the legality and ethics of such use.

Google Books Project: One of the earliest examples of AI’s run-in with copyright law was Google’s ambitious project to digitize millions of books. Authors and publishers sued Google, leading to a landmark case that ultimately ruled in favor of Google under the fair use doctrine. However, the case underscored the complex legal terrain of AI and copyrighted content.

Clearview AI: This facial recognition startup scraped billions of images from social media to train its models, leading to lawsuits and widespread condemnation. The Clearview AI case highlighted significant privacy and ethical concerns, showcasing the potential for AI to infringe on personal and intellectual property rights.

OpenAI’s GPT Models: OpenAI has faced scrutiny for using vast amounts of copyrighted text from books, articles, and websites to train its models. Critics argue that this practice is akin to large-scale plagiarism, while proponents claim it falls under fair use. The debate is ongoing and exemplifies the broader challenges of AI development.

Given this context, the music industry’s lawsuits against Udio and Suno are not surprising. While I believe AI should be trained ethically, it’s also clear that the industry’s unwillingness to innovate creates an adversarial landscape for startups. The major labels are within their rights to protect their intellectual property, but their approach often stifles innovation rather than fostering collaborative solutions.

Notable Cases in AI and Copyright Infringement

Several notable cases illustrate the ongoing conflict between AI development and copyright law:

  1. Google Books Project: As mentioned, Google’s project to digitize books led to significant legal challenges but ultimately set a precedent for fair use in AI training.
  2. Clearview AI: This case brought to light the privacy and ethical implications of using publicly available data without consent, leading to a broader debate about the limits of AI training.
  3. OpenAI GPT-3: OpenAI’s language models have faced criticism for potentially using copyrighted material without permission, highlighting the need for clearer guidelines and ethical standards in AI training.

These cases underscore the importance of balancing innovation with respect for intellectual property rights. The ongoing lawsuits against Udio and Suno will likely add to this evolving legal landscape.

The Current Lawsuits: Udio and Suno

The lawsuits against Udio and Suno represent a significant escalation in the battle over AI and copyright in the music industry. The RIAA and major labels allege that these startups used copyrighted music to train their AI models without obtaining licenses or compensating rightsholders. This, they argue, constitutes a clear violation of copyright law and threatens the livelihoods of musicians and songwriters.

Udio: Founded by former employees of Google’s DeepMind, Udio has quickly made a name for itself in the AI music space. Backed by major investors, including Andreesen Horowitz and industry figures like, Udio claims to transform the music creation process. However, the company’s use of copyrighted music for training its models has drawn ire from the music industry. Despite implementing filters to prevent replication of specific artists’ voices, Udio’s practices have raised significant legal and ethical concerns​ (​​ (Rolling Stone India)​.

Suno: Similarly, Suno has positioned itself as a tool for both amateur and professional musicians. While Suno insists its models do not easily replicate well-known songs, the company faces accusations of training on copyrighted material without permission. The Artists Rights Alliance and other advocacy groups have condemned these practices, calling for stricter regulations and legal actions​ (SiliconANGLE)​​ (Music Business Worldwide)​.

These lawsuits could have far-reaching implications for the AI and music industries, potentially setting new legal precedents for the use of copyrighted material in AI training.

The Implications for Startups

For AI startups, these lawsuits underscore the critical importance of navigating copyright laws carefully. Potential consequences include:

  • Legal Repercussions: Lawsuits can result in hefty fines, legal fees, and injunctions against the use of certain datasets.
  • Reputational Damage: Being embroiled in legal battles over copyright can harm a startup’s reputation, making it harder to attract investors and customers.
  • Operational Challenges: Startups may need to invest more in acquiring licensed data or developing alternative methods for training their models, which can be resource-intensive.

These challenges highlight the adversarial landscape created by the music industry’s resistance to innovation. While startups like Udio and Suno push the boundaries of what’s possible with AI, they must also navigate a complex and often hostile legal environment.

The Implications for the Music Industry

For the music industry, these lawsuits are part of a broader effort to protect intellectual property in the digital age. The implications include:

  • Reinforcement of Copyright Protections: Successful lawsuits can set legal precedents that strengthen copyright protections and deter future infringements.
  • Revenue Preservation: By challenging unauthorized use of music, the industry aims to safeguard revenue streams for artists and rightsholders.
  • Innovation in Licensing Models: The music industry may need to develop new licensing frameworks that accommodate the needs of AI developers while ensuring fair compensation for artists.

These efforts underscore the industry’s dual goals of protecting intellectual property and adapting to new technological realities. However, the industry’s historical resistance to innovation suggests that finding a balance will be challenging.


The lawsuits against Udio and Suno highlight a critical issue at the intersection of AI and copyright: the ethical and legal use of copyrighted material in training AI models. As AI technology continues to advance, it is imperative for developers to navigate the complex landscape of intellectual property rights carefully. For the music industry, these legal battles are part of a broader effort to protect the value of creative works in the digital age.

Ultimately, finding a balance between technological innovation and the protection of artistic rights will be crucial for the future of both AI and the music industry.

What do you think? Where are the opportunities for AI and music to converge successfully in future? Or will it never happen? Let me know in the comments 👇



Lewis Donovan

CTO at SonX, former Sony Music UK. Fascinated by coding, science and music.