Music has always been created through human ingenuity with some musicians and composers viewed among the most creative and inventive people who have ever lived. However, this may all be about to change as ongoing developments and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform the arts and culture industry, particularly music, beyond recognition.

Soon, if not already, an AI tool could be instructed to generate almost limitless quantities of musical works in response to general directions or parameters.

For example, “Generate a playlist of 12 new songs to celebrate the King’s Coronation in the musical style of Gary Barlow” might, before long, be all that’s needed to create an entire album. Companies such as AudioShake, OpenAI, Splice, Stability AI, Dessa and BandLab have already made significant developments in this space.

This is likely to be disruptive to the music industry but thankfully the legal framework to enable it is already in place. Unlike many other countries, UK copyright law protects computer-generated works. The Government has consulted on how AI should be dealt with in the patent and copyright systems but this has not resulted in any proposals to change the law significantly in these areas. Music copyright protects literary works as well as sound recordings. Music and lyrics, even if computer-generated, also need to be "original". This may be tricky to establish in relation to AI-generated music and may end up being tested in court before long.

However, the originality requirement does not apply to sound recordings at all. The owner of copyright in music or lyrics would generally be the person who composed or wrote them. Where a musical work is computer-generated, the owner will be assumed to be the person who instructed the arrangement. Namely the person who configures or directs the AI system to produce the resulting work. But what will the value of that copyright be, given that presumably anyone else using the same system could generate limitless variations of similar works? This has the potential to change the way music is recorded and consumed hugely. It could make home taping, Napster or streaming look modest.

High-profile recording artists will likely be more engaged in protecting their likenesses and may lobby for the law to protect performing or musical styles, likenesses and a wider range of interests more strictly.

In 2020, Jay-Z filed DMCA takedown notices against anonymous YouTuber, Vocal Synthesis, who created deepfakes of Jay-Z reciting William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and a Billy Joel song, but this might become a lot more common in future.

More recently Heart On My Sleeve, which seemingly features Drake and The Weeknd, has accrued more than 20 million views and listens across TikTok, Twitter and Spotify – but it was completely generated by AI. It has harbored criticism that this act of music production with voice cloning should be banned from streaming platforms.

Meanwhile, Generation X veterans like me will hug our growing vinyl collections ever more closely, while our children wonder what on earth we’re doing.

Liam McMonagle is intellectual property specialist and partner at Thorntons