The baffling legalities around “Heart on My Sleeve,” the song that uses AI-generated renditions of vocals by Drake and the Weeknd, continued on Friday as Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason Jr. posted a video insisting that the song is not eligible for a Grammy award, even though the New York Times reported earlier in the week that he’d said it is.
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Mason said in the article, “As far as the creative side, [‘Heart on My Sleeve’] is absolutely eligible [for a Grammy] because it was written by a human.”
However, a rep for the Recording Academy noted to Variety on Friday that the Times did not mis-report anything. Rather, what Mason said next was omitted from multiple articles reporting the news:
He added that the Academy would also look at whether the song was commercially available, with Grammy rules stating that a track must have “general distribution,” meaning “the broad release of a recording, available nationwide via brick-and-mortar stores, third-party online retailers and/or streaming services.”
Thus, the song is not eligible, because it is not commercially available. It was removed from streaming services after legal action by Universal Music Group, the company that releases Drake and the Weekend’s music.
“I’m sorry but I have to clear up some of this bad and really inaccurate information that’s starting to float around,” Mason said in Friday’s video. “ ‘Heart on My Sleeve’… is not eligible for Grammy consideration. Let me be extra, extra clear: Even though it was written by a human creator, the vocals were not legally obtained, the vocals were not cleared by the label or the artists, and the song is not commercially available, and because of that. It’s not eligible.”
Despite the comparatively mundane reasoning around commercial availability, Mason’s comments about the legality of the vocals reopen the ongoing dilemmas surrounding AI since the launch of ChatGPT last fall, and especially since the release of “Heart on My Sleeve” earlier this year. The Recording Academy attempted to address the new issues in its annual update to Grammy eligibility rules in June. (The full wording of the rule appears at the end of this article.)
In an extensive conversation on the topic with Variety in June, Mason clarified that recordings that use one of the multiple types of AI technology will be eligible, but words and melodies essentially written by AI — a.k.a. generative AI — are not. “We’re not going to be giving a nomination or an award to an AI computer or someone who just prompted AI,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. clarifies to Variety. “That’s the distinction that we’re trying to make. It’s the human award highlighting excellence, driven by human creativity.”
The Ghostwriter song appears to blur the lines in those rules, which Mason elaborated further to Variety: “What we intended to say was that material using AI can be submitted,”but the human portion of the of the composition, or the performance, is the only portion that can be awarded or considered for a Grammy Award. So if an AI modeling system or app built a track — ‘wrote’ lyrics and a melody — that would not be eligible for a composition award. But if a human writes a track and AI is used to voice-model, or create a new voice, or use somebody else’s voice, the performance would not be eligible, but the writing of the track and the lyric or top line would be absolutely eligible for an award.”
However, by that logic, since the underlying song was written by a human, “Heart on My Sleeve” would appear to be eligible. But apparently the fact that the vocals are essentially unlicensed — getting into a hazy realm of intellectual property involving a human’s unique voice and the ownership thereof, rather than songwriting — and the more mundane issue of its commercial availability (the song was quickly removed from streaming services due to copyright infringement claims by Universal Music, Drake and the Weeknd’s label), would seem to disqualify it.
Presumably, if Drake, the Weeknd and Universal were to sign off on permission to use AI-generated versions of the voices — which would probably be a precedent-setting decision — the song could be commercially released and thus become eligible.
Also, it seems possible that Ghostwriter — whom Mason says he has spoken with several times — could argue that his use of the voices is a parody, which would seem to evade at least some of the rules governing ownership. However, that is purely speculative.
“I take this stuff very seriously,” a clearly frustrated Mason said in Friday’s video. “It’s all complicated and it’s moving really really quickly… But please please do not be confused: the Academy is here to support and advocate protect and represent human artists and creators, period.”
The full wording of the Recording Academy’s June ruling follows: The GRAMMY Award recognizes creative excellence. Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a GRAMMY Award. A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any Categories. A work that features elements of A.I. material (i.e., material generated by the use of artificial intelligence technology) is eligible in applicable Categories; however: (1) the human authorship component of the work submitted must be meaningful and more than de minimis; (2) such human authorship component must be relevant to the Category in which such work is entered (e.g., if the work is submitted in a songwriting Category, there must be meaningful and more than de minimis human authorship in respect of the music and/or lyrics; if the work is submitted in a performance Category, there must be meaningful and more than de minimis human authorship in respect of the performance); and (3) the author(s) of any A.I. material incorporated into the work are not eligible to be nominees or GRAMMY recipients insofar as their contribution to the portion of the work that consists of such A.I material is concerned. De minimis is defined as lacking significance or importance; so minor as to merit disregard.