Deezer’s New Model Involves Deleting “Non-Artist” Content, But Where is the Line?

Sammi DietrichNews & Insights

The music industry has yet to evolve with the rapid pace of technology and its ability to create new compositions from existing music. However, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) contributing to streaming fraud on Digital Steaming Platforms (“DSPs”), industry giants are seeking new technology that they can use to their advantage.[1] A recent example that exemplified the urgency of the situation was the recent creation of an AI “Drake” song featuring simulated vocals, which prompted industry-wide scrambling to minimize AI-generated content.[2] To get ahead of the issue, the music streaming service Deezer implemented a new model that utilizes technology to identify and delete “non-artist” content.[3] This approach of unilaterally deciding which content is removed from platforms has been both lauded and criticized within the industry since the laws concerning AI-generated content remains unsettled.

Generative AI refers to a machine’s ability to simulate human intelligence by creating “realistic text, images, music and other media.”[4] An AI trainer (which may be a human or a computer) develops machine-learning algorithms that predict values based on inputted data,[5] and these algorithms allow a machine to generate responses based off that data.[6] In generative songwriting, an AI trainer employs “catalog training” by placing catalogs of existing songs into a machine, [7] which allows the machine to imitate the style and structure of these songs in its creation of new musical compositions.[8]

There are distinct legal issues related to generative songwriting, such as the debate surrounding whether AI-generated content have copyright protection. Under present laws, copyright protection belongs exclusively to human creations.[9] However, DSPs are not currently able to track AI-generated or other uncopyrightable materials.[10]

Deezer’s response to this issue is the “artist-centric” streaming model that it created in partnership with Universal Music Group (“UMG.”).[11] Deezer’s model includes royalty boosts for artists with higher streaming numbers and the deletion of “non artist” content.[12] The definition of “non-artist” content is ambiguous, but reports indicate that Deezer will delete and replace non-musical content such as “white noise” or “gamma waves for studying” with its own musical content.[13] Deezer will then distribute royalties generated in connection with replacement content among artists who have over 1,000 streams on the platform.[14] Deezer plans to scrub the platform of non-artist content with automated technology that can allegedly identify music created by AI.[15]

There may be authority to do this. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), a U.S. copyright law, protects copyright owners from online theft of their original work and allows businesses, like DSPS, to take down infringed work.[16]

“We need to take a stand now,” said Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgeira in an interview with BBC.[17] “We are at a pivotal moment in music . . . we as an industry need to make sure that AI is used in the right way, that it complies with the law and intellectual property rights and that artists get compensated fairly.”[18]

The legality of AI-generated catalog training has yet to be determined. UMG’s Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy Michael Nash stated that “[g]enerative AI…violates copyright law in several ways . . . [c]ompanies have to obtain permission and execute a license to use copyrighted content for AI training or other purposes, and we’re committed to maintaining these principles.” [19] Alternatively, proponents assert that AI-generated catalog training falls within “fair use.”[20] Fair use permits certain uses of a copyrighted work, as specified by Section 107 of the Copyright Act, based on factors including the nature of the work and market effect of the use.[21] Fair use proponents argue that AI in songwriting is transformative, and thus protected, due to its creation of new material from existing work.[22]

Deezer’s new model is scheduled to expand globally in 2024.[23] While Deezer’s model may offer a solution to help artists protect the rights to their voice and creativity as technology races forward, it may also pose risks with respect to how content is selectively deleted. Future copyright law concerning AI technology will have ripple effects across the music industry and could affect exactly which content takedowns are permitted.


[1] Murray Stassen, As AI-Made Music Explodes, Deezer Lays Out Strategy to Identify AI Tracks and “Weed Out Illegal and Fraudulent Content” on its Platform, Music Business Worldwide (June 6, 2023), https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/as-ai-made-music-explodes-deezer-lays-out-strategy-to-identify-ai-tracks-and-weed-out-illegal-and-fraudulent-content-on-its-platform/#:~:text=’Radar’%20can%20scan%20large%20catalogs,rewarded%20for%20creating%20valuable%20content.%E2%80%9D.

[3] Stassen, supra, note 1; see also Ashley Carman, Universal Music Group and Deezer’s New Agreement Could Have Unintended Consequences, Bloomberg (Sep. 7, 2023), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-09-07/universal-music-group-and-deezer-aim-to-fix-the-broken-economics-of-streaming.

[2] AI’s entrance into the music space has been compared to the infamous file-sharing service Napster, with respect to its disruption to the music industry, see e.g., Joe Coscarelli, An A.I. Hit of Fake “Drake” and “The Weeknd” Rattles the Music World, The New York Times (April 24, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/19/arts/music/ai-drake-the-weeknd-fake.html?auth=login-google1tap&login=google1tap.

[4] Ed Burns, Nicole Laskowski, & Linda Tucci, Definition: Artificial Intelligence, TechTarget (July 2023), https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterpriseai/definition/AI-Artificial-Intelligence.

[5] Id.

[6]Steve Cohen, Your AI Cheat Sheet: Key Concepts in Common Sense Terms, ACAMS Today (Aug. 14, 2018), https://www.acamstoday.org/your-ai-cheat-sheet-key-concepts-in-common-sense-terms/.

[7]Scott Ng, Universal Wants Streaming Platforms to Block Their Catalogue from AI Training, MUSICTECH (April 13, 2023), https://musictech.com/news/industry/universal-music-streaming-block-ai/.

[8] Artificial Intelligence in the Music World, Levine Music (July 11, 2023), https://www.levinemusic.org/about/news/artificial-intelligence-in-the-music-world/.

[9] Naruto v. Slater, 888 F.3d 418 (9th Cir. 2018) (holding that a selfie taken by a monkey is not protected by copyright because there was no human element to the creation of the photo); see also Thaler v. Perlmutter, No. CV 22-1564 (BAH), 2023 WL 5333236 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2023) (finding that work autonomously generated by AI is not eligible for copyright). 

[10] Stassen, supra note 1.

[11] Universal Music Group and Deezer to Launch the First Comprehensive Artist-Centric Music Streaming Model, Universal Music Group (Sept. 6, 2023), https://www.universalmusic.com/universal-music-group-and-deezer-to-launch-the-first-comprehensive-artist-centric-music-streaming-model/.

[12] Id.

[13] Tim Ingham, On… Deezer Nuzzling up to Universal’s “Artist-Centric” Model, A Potential Mass Deletion, and a Controversial Tweak (Update), Music Business Worldwide (Sept. 7, 2023) https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/deezer-nuzzling-universals-artist-centric-model/; see also Ashley Carman, Universal Music Group and Deezer’s New Agreement Could Have Unintended Consequences, Bloomberg (Sept. 7, 2023), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-09-07/universal-music-group-and-deezer-aim-to-fix-the-broken-economics-of-streaming.

[14] Id.

[15] Mark Savage, Deezer: Streaming Service to Detect and Delete “Deepfake” AI Songs, BBC (June 6, 2023), https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-65792580.

[16]The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, U.S. Copyright Office (Sept. 22, 2023), https://www.copyright.gov/dmca/.

[17] Savage, supra note 15.

[18] Id.

[19] Nilay Patel, Google and YouTube are Trying to Have it Both Ways with AI and Copyright, The Verge (Aug. 22, 2023), https://www.theverge.com/2023/8/22/23841822/google-youtube-ai-copyright-umg-scraping-universal.

[20] See 17 U.S.C.S. § 107.

[21] Id.

[22] See e.g., Ben Thompson, Generative AI and Copyright, When AI Hits the Music Business, The Social Media that Comes After Twitter, Sharp Tech With Ben Thompson, at 08:28 (Apr. 17, 2023), https://open.spotify.com/episode/60EceNXr65NayC2kYAIzTJ?si=7eb9785d32d24a4b.

[23] Ashley Carman, Universal Music Group and Deezer’s New Agreement Could Have Unintended Consequences Bloomberg (Sep. 7, 2023), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-09-07/universal-music-group-and-deezer-aim-to-fix-the-broken-economics-of-streaming.