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‘There Has to Be Compensation’: ChatGPT Exec Faces Tough Music AI Questioning at Senate Hearing

A music-focused senator grilled OpenAI CEO Sam Altman over whether copyrighted songs can be used to train AI platforms.

Nashville’s U.S. senator had tough questions about artificial intelligence’s impact on the music industry during a Congressional hearing on Tuesday (May 16), at one point asking the CEO of the company behind ChatGPT to commit to not using copyrighted songs to train future machines.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee about potential regulation for AI, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) repeatedly grilled Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, over how songwriters and musical artists should be compensated when their works are used by AI companies.


Opening her questioning, Blackburn said she had used OpenAI’s Jukebox to create a song that mimicked Garth Brooks – and that she was clearly concerned about how the singer’s music and voice had been used to create such a tool.

“You’re training it on these copyrighted songs,” Blackburn told Altman. “How do you compensate the artist?”

“If I can go in and say ‘write me a song that sounds like Garth Brooks,’ and it takes part of an existing song, there has to be compensation to that artist for that utilization and that use,” Blackburn said. “If it was radio play, it would be there. If it was streaming, it would be there.”

At one point, Blackburn demanded a firm answer: “Can you commit, as you’ve done with consumer data, not to train [AI models] on artists’ and songwriters’ copyrighted works, or use their voices and their likenesses without first receiving their consent?”


Though Altman did not directly answer that question, he repeatedly told the senator that artists “deserve control” over how their copyrighted music and their voices were used by AI companies.

“We think that content creators need to benefit from this technology,” Altman told the committee. “Exactly what the economic model is, we’re still talking to artists and content owners about what they want. I think there’s a lot of ways this can happen. But very clearly, no matter what the law is, the right thing to do is to make sure people get significant upside benefit from this new technology.”

Blackburn’s questioning came amid a far broader discussion of the potential risks posed by AI, including existential threats to democracy, major harm to the labor market and the widespread proliferation of misinformation. One witness, a New York University professor and expert in AI, told the lawmakers that it poses problems “on a scale that humanity has not seen before.”

The music industry, too, is worried about AI-driven disruption. Last month, a new song featuring AI-generated fake vocals from Drake and The Weeknd went viral, underscoring growing concerns about AI’s impact on music and highlighting the legal uncertainties that surround it.


One of the biggest open questions is whether copyrighted music can be used to train AI platforms – the process whereby machines “learn” to spit out new creations by ingesting millions of existing works. Major labels and other industry players have already said that such training is illegal, and cutting-edge litigation against the creators of such platforms could be coming soon.

At Tuesday’s hearing, in repeatedly asking Altman to weigh in on that question, Blackburn drew historical parallels to the last major technological disruption to wreak havoc on the music industry — a scenario that also posed novel legal and policy questions.

“We lived through Napster,” Blackburn said. “That was something that really cost a lot of artists a lot of money.”

Though he voiced support for compensation for artists, Altman did not get into specifics, saying that many industry stakeholders had “different opinions” on how creators should be paid. When Blackburn asked him if he thought the government should create an organization similar to SoundExchange – the group that collects certain blanket royalties for streaming – Altman said he wasn’t familiar with it.

“You’ve got your team behind you,” Blackburn said. “Get back to me on that.”