The boss of Spotify says he has no plans to completely ban content created by artificial intelligence from the music streaming platform.
Earlier this year the platform pulled a track featuring AI-cloned voices of the performers Drake and The Weeknd.
Daniel Ek told the BBC there were valid uses of the tech in making music – but AI should not be used to impersonate human artists without their consent.
He said using AI in music was likely to be debated for “many, many years”.
Mr Ek, who rarely speaks to the media, said that he saw three “buckets” of AI use:
- tools such as auto-tune which improve music, which he believed were acceptable
- tools which mimic artists, which were not
- and a more contentious middle ground where music created by AI was clearly influenced by existing artists but did not directly impersonate them.
“It is going to be tricky,” he said when asked about the challenge the industry was facing.
While AI is not banned in all forms on the platform the company does not allow its content to be used to train a machine learning or AI model, the likes of which can then produce music.
Artists are increasingly speaking out against the use of AI in the creative industries.
Last month the Irish musician Hozier said he would consider striking over the threat of AI to his profession.
He told BBC Newsnight that he wasn’t sure the tech “meets the definition of art”.
Neither Drake nor The Weeknd were aware of cloned versions of their voices being used on the song, Heart on My Sleeve. The track was removed from Spotify and other streaming platforms in April.
Its creator, Ghostwriter, later tried to have the track nominated for a Grammy award but it was turned down.
“You can imagine someone uploading a song, claiming to be Madonna, even if they’re not. We’ve seen pretty much everything in the history of Spotify at this point with people trying to game our system,” Mr Ek said.
“We have a very large team that is working on exactly these types of issues.”
In May, the Financial Times reported that thousands of tracks had been removed from Spotify after a discovery that bots were being used to artificially inflate their streaming figures.
Mr Ek also discussed the platform’s huge investment in podcasts – including those from high-profile figures like Michelle and Barack Obama and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Neither has been re-commissioned.
The deal with Harry and Meghan cost a reported $25m (£18m) and saw just 12 episodes delivered over two and a half years. A Spotify executive recently reportedly spoke disparagingly about the pair’s work ethic.
“The truth of the matter is some of it has worked, some of it hasn’t,” said Mr Ek of the firm’s decision to “challenge Apple” as the market-leading podcast platform by taking on a lot of new creators.
“Five years ago Spotify was nowhere in podcasting.”
Separately, the firm confirmed that Russell Brand’s podcast would remain on Spotify unless the material itself was found to have breached its own terms and conditions.
Acast, which owns the podcast, said it had suspended advertising revenue from it as the comedian remains under investigation over allegations of sexual assault.
The reason Sweden-based Daniel Ek was in the UK was to discuss regulation. He said the firm is supportive of the incoming Online Safety Bill, designed to make the internet safer for children, and the ongoing Digital Markets Bill, which aims to improve competition by closely scrutinising the tech giants.
Mr Ek has long been a vocal critic of the policies of Apple and Google’s app stores, on which Spotify relies. Both companies charge smaller developers a 15% commission on in-app purchases, with this rising to 30% for developers with revenue of more than $1m.
Spotify has also complained that Apple makes it hard for the business to communicate directly with its customers and promote its services elsewhere.
“We are in a situation where literally two companies in the world control how over four billion consumers access the internet,” said Mr Ek.
“If you think now on a company like Spotify, where we already pay out almost 70% of our revenues back to the creative community, if we were to take the 30% out of our cut it essentially means we’re left with zero, which means we have to close shop.”
In April, the European Commission (EC) charged Apple with breaking EU competition rules over this, following a complaint from Spotify in 2020. In February the EC scaled back its objections against Apple although there has yet to be a final ruling.
Apple said it was continuing to work with the EC. It added that the vast majority of European developers are developers who make less than $1m in revenue and qualify to pay Apple a 15% commission rate.