One of the buzziest songs recently circulating on TikTok and climbing the Spotify charts featured the familiar voices of best-selling artists Drake and the Weeknd. But there’s a twist: Drake and the Weeknd appear to have had nothing to do with it.
The viral track, “Heart on my Sleeve,” comes from an anonymous TikTok user named Ghostwriter977, who claims to have used artificial intelligence to generate the voices of Drake and the Weeknd for the track.
“I was a ghostwriter for years and got paid close to nothing just for major labels to profit,” Ghostwriter977 wrote in the video comments. “The future is here.”
“Heart on my Sleeve” racked up more than 11 million views across several videos in just a few days and was streamed on Spotify hundreds of thousands of times. The original TikTok video has seemingly been taken down, and the song has since been removed from streaming services including YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify. (TikTok, YouTube, Apple and Spotify did not respond to a request for comment.)
The exact origin of the song remains unclear, and some have suggested it could be a publicity stunt. But the stunning traction for “Heart on my Sleeve” may only add to the anxiety inside the music industry as it goes on offense against the possible threat posed by a new crop of increasingly powerful AI tools on the market.
Universal Music Group, the music label that represents Drake, The Weeknd and numerous other superstars, sent urgent letters in April to streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music, asking them to block AI platforms from training on the melodies and lyrics of their copywritten songs.
“The training of generative AI using our artists’ music — which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on digital service providers – begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation,” the company said in a statement this week to CNN.
The record label said platforms have “a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists.”
But attempting to crack down on AI-generated music may pose a unique challenge. The legal landscape for AI work remains unclear, the tools to create it are widely accessible and social media makes it easier than ever to distribute it.
AI-generated music is not new. Taryn Southern’s debut song “Break Free,” which was composed and produced with AI, hit the Top 100 radio charts back in 2018, and VAVA, an AI music artist (i.e. not a human), currently has a single out in Thailand.
But a new crop of AI tools have made it easier than ever to quickly generate convincing images, audio, video and written work. Some services such as Boomy specifically leverage generative AI to make music creation more accessible.
There’s little known about who is behind the Ghostwriter977 account, or which tools the creator used to make the track. The user did not respond to a CNN request for comment.
In the bio section of the user’s TikTok account, a link directs users to a page on Laylo, a website where fans can sign up to get notifications from artists when new songs are dropped or merchandise and tickets become available. The company told CNN the account likely registered to build up its fan base and brought in “tens of thousands” of signups in the past few days.
Laylo CEO Alec Ellin denied that the company was behind the viral track as some have speculated, but Ellin told CNN whoever did make it was “clearly a really savvy creator” and called it “a perfect example of the power of using Laylo to own your audience.”
Michael Inouye, an analyst at ABI Research, said “Heart on my Sleeve” could have been made in several ways depending on the sophistication of the AI and level of musical talent.
“If music artists were involved, they could create the background music and the lyrics, and then the AI model could be trained with content from Drake and The Weekend to replicate their voices and singing styles,” he said. “AI could also have generated most of the song, lyrics and replicated the artists again based on the training data set and any prompts given to direct the AI model.”
He added that part of this fascination and virality of the song comes from “just how good AI has gotten at creating content, which includes replicating famous people.”
Roberto Nickson, who is building an AI platform to help boost productivity and work flow, recently posted a video on Twitter showing how easy it is to record a verse and train an AI model to replace his vocals. He used the artist formerly known as Kanye West as an example.
“The results will blow your mind,” he said. “You’re going to be listening to songs by your favorite artist that are completely indistinguishable and you’re not going to know if it’s them or not.”
Although the entertainment industry has seen these issues coming, regulations are lagging behind the rapid pace of AI development.
Audrey Benoualid, an entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles, said one could argue “Heart On My Sleeve” does not infringe copyright as it appears to be an “original” composition.
“Ghostwriter also publicized that Drake and The Weeknd were not involved in the making of the song, which could protect them from a ‘passing off’ claim, where profits are generated as consumers are misled into believing the song is actually a Drake-Weeknd collaboration,” she said in an email to CNN.
However, Benoualid added, machine learning and generative AI programs may also be found to infringe copyright in existing works, either by making copies of those works to train the AI or by generating outputs that are substantially similar to those existing works. “Major labels would undoubtedly, and have already begun to, argue that their copyrights (and their artists’ intellectual property rights) are being infringed,” she said.
Michael Nash, an executive VP at Universal Music Group, recently wrote in an op-ed that AI music is “diluting the market, making original creations harder to find, and violating artists’ legal rights to compensation from their work.”
No regulations exist that dictate on what AI can and cannot train. But last month, in response to individuals looking to seek copyright for AI-generated works, the US Copyright Office released new guidance around how to register literary, musical, and artistic works made with AI.
The copyright will be determined on a case-by-case basis, the guidance continued, based on how the AI tool operates and how it was used to create the final piece or work. The US Copyright Office announced it will also be seeking public input on how the law should apply to copywritten works the AI trains on, and how the office should treat those works.
“AI and copyright law and the rights of musicians and labels have crashed into one another (once again), and it will take time for the dust to settle,” Benoualid said. “The landscape is anything but clear at the moment.”
Inouye said if AI generated content becomes associated with famous individuals in a negative way that could be grounds for a lawsuit to not only take content down but to cease and desist their operations and potentially seek damage.
“On the flip side, if the content were to be popular and the creator were to make revenue off of the artists’ image or likeness then again the artists could similarly request the content to be taken down and potentially sue for any monetary gains,” he said.
But for now, concerned parties may be forced to play whack-a-mole. While services like Spotify pulled “Heart on my Sleeve,” versions of it appeared to continue circulating as of Tuesday on other online platforms.
Even a song made with artificial intelligence may find real staying power online.
– CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.