A researcher created a ‘Weird A.I. Yancovic’ algorithm that generates parodies of existing songs, and now the record industry is accusing him of copyright violations

  • A researcher created a machine learning model that creates new lyrics to existing songs, much in the same way that parody singer Weird Al Yankovic does.
  • But the algorithm, dubbed “Weird A.I. Yancovic,” has landed creator Mark Riedl in hot water with the record industry, according to a Vice report.
  • Twitter took down one of his videos, which featured the instrumental section of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” after a coalition of major record companies submitted a copyright notice.
  • Riedl is pushing back against the takedown and argues his work is protected by the fair use doctrine.
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A researcher has created an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to create new lyrics “that match the rhyme and syllables schemes of existing songs,” per a Vice report published Thursday.

Mark Riedl, a researcher at Georgia Tech, told Vice he created his “Weird A.I. Yancovic” algorithm as a personal project. The algorithm’s name is inspired by the parody singer Weird Al Yankovic, who does something similar, taking existing songs and creating his own spinoff version with new lyrics. One of his most popular parodies is “White & Nerdy,” a take on “Ridin” by rappers Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone.

As Vice notes, however, Yankovic reportedly asks the original artist for permission before creating his parody of a given song. Riedl does not — and it’s landed him in hot water.

Riedl posted a video to Twitter on May 15 with AI-generated lyrics and the instrumental part of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” On July 14, Twitter took it down after the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a coalition of some of the record industry’s biggest companies, submitted a copyright takedown notice to Twitter, per the report. Coincidentally, Weird Al Yankovic, the parody singer, also created a version of the hit track, entitled “Eat It,” in 1984.

Other similar AI-generated videos that Riedl has posted to Twitter have stayed up, like a spinoff of Sam Smith and Normani’s “Dancing With a Stranger.”

Riedl told the outlet he thinks his videos are protected by fair use, which is a loophole in copyright laws that allow people to use copyrighted work without obtaining permission beforehand in certain circumstances. The doctrine covers parody work, among other stipulations.

“I would argue that my system is generating parody lyrics and that I do not require permission from the copyright holder to publish parody content,” Riedl told Vice. “I am not a lawyer, however.” Vice spoke with Casey Fiesler, an Information Science professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who agreed that Riedl’s video should be protected under fair use.

As Vice explores, the debacle has raised a host of questions pertaining to the intersection of technology and copyright usage, including how algorithm-generated work should be contextualized under fair use and how copyright laws could, or should, evolve to adapt to advancements in technology, like AI.

Per the report, Riedl is pushing back against Twitter’s takedown of his “Beat It” video and hasn’t heard back from the company yet.

Read the full report on Vice here.

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