Universal Music Asks Streaming Services To Block AI Access To Its Songs

The world’s largest music company, Universal Music Group, is asking major streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to block artificial intelligence companies from using its music to “train” their technology, according to a recent report in Financial Times. Variety reports: Confirming the report, a UMG spokesperson told the FT: “We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorized use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.” The process involves the AI companies uploading copyrighted music from the platforms into their technology and thus enabling the bots to digest the lyrics and music and then essentially create songs or melodies in those styles. […]

UMG has been sending takedown requests to the streamers “left and right,” FT quoted an unnamed source as saying. “We have become aware that certain AI systems might have been trained on copyrighted content without obtaining the required consents from, or paying compensation to, the rightsholders who own or produce the content,” the company said in an email from last month, according to the report. “We will not hesitate to take steps to protect our rights and those of our artists.” The website drayk.it delivered users a custom Drake song, although it has since been shut down.

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Apple Launches Its New Classical Music Streaming App For Preorder

Apple is launching a new music streaming service focused on classical music. TechCrunch reports: Based on its 2021 acquisition of Amsterdam-based streamer Primephonic, the new Apple Music Classical app will offer Apple Music subscribers access to more than 5 million classical music tracks, including new releases in high-quality audio, as well as hundreds of curated playlists, thousands of exclusive albums and other features like composer bios and deep dives on key works, Apple says.

However, while the app is being announced today, it’s only available for preorder on the App Store for now. The release date will be later this month, on March 28. In addition, the app will only support iOS devices running iOS 15.4 or newer at launch. Apple Music Classical will present a simple interface for engaging with classical works. Users will be able to search by composer, work, conductor or even catalog number, to locate recordings. These can be streamed in high-quality audio of up to 192 kHz/24-bit Hi-Res Lossless. And thousands of recordings will be available in Apple’s immersive spatial audio, as well.

The app will also let users dive into the recordings to read editorial notes about the composers and descriptions of their key works. Famous composers will have their own high-resolution digital portraits available, which Apple commissioned from artists. These were designed with color palettes and artistic references from the relevant classical period, Apple notes, and more will be added in time. At launch, portraits will be available for Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach. The service will continue to be updated with new music over time, too. There’s no additional charge for Apple Music Classical if you’re an Apple Music subscriber. Android support is coming “soon.”

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As US Investigates Ticketmaster, Botched Sale of Taylor Swift Tickets Fuels Monopoly Criticisms

Ticketmaster provoked ire with a botched sale of tickets to Taylor Swift’s first concert in five years. NPR reports:
On Thursday afternoon, the day before tickets were due to open to the general public, Ticketmaster announced that the sale had been cancelled altogether due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.” Taylor Swift broke her silence on Friday in statement on Instagram in which she said it is “excruciating for me to watch mistakes happen with no recourse.” She said there are many reasons people had a hard time getting tickets, and she’s trying to figure out how to improve the situation moving forward. “I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” she wrote, without naming Ticketmaster.

America’s Justice Department “has opened an antitrust investigation into the owner of Ticketmaster,” reports the New York Times. But the investigation “predates the botched sale” and “is focused on whether Live Nation Entertainment has abused its power over the multibillion-dollar live music industry.”

The new investigation is the latest scrutiny of Live Nation Entertainment, which is the product of a merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster that the Justice Department approved in 2010. That created a giant in the live entertainment business that still has no equals in its reach or power…. The debacle involving Ms. Swiftâ(TM)s concert tickets this week has exacerbated complaints in the music business and in Washington that Live Nationâ(TM)s power has constrained competition and harmed consumers.
Or, as NPR puts it, “The frenzy has brought renewed scrutiny to the giant Ticketmaster, which critics have long accused of abusing its market power at the expense of consumers.”

Would-be concertgoers have complained vocally about recent incidents with near-instant sellouts and skyrocketing prices, and artists like Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen have feuded with it over the decades. One common complaint is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear alternative or competitor to Ticketmaster, especially after it merged with concert provider Live Nation in 2010 (a controversial move that required conditional approval from the U.S. Department of Justice).

Now Tennessee’s attorney general, a Republican, is opening a consumer protection investigation into the incident. North Carolina’s attorney general announced on Thursday that his office is investigating Ticketmaster for allegedly violating consumers’ rights and antitrust laws. And multiple Democratic lawmakers are asking questions about the company’s dominance â” not for the first time…. “Taylor Swift’s tour sale is a perfect example of how the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger harms consumers by creating a near-monopoly,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of several lawmakers who has long called for investigation and accountability into the company, especially after becoming a subsidiary of concert behemoth Live Nation.

The article also cites a Thursday statement from Ticketmaster:
The company says that using Verified Fan invite codes has historically helped manage the volume of users visiting the website to buy tickets, though that wasn’t the case on Tuesday. “The staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have invite codes drove unprecedented traffic on our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests â” 4x our previous peak,” it said, adding that it slowed down some sales and pushed back others to stabilize its systems, resulting in longer wait times for some users.

It estimates that about 15% of interactions across the website experienced issues, which it said is “15% too many.”

The Tuesday sale also broke Ticketmaster’s record for most tickets sold for an artist in a single day,” reports People, “selling two million tickets.”
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader SpzToid for submitting the story.

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Apple AirPods Can Work As More Affordable Hearing Aids, Study Finds

A new study has found that Apple’s wireless earbuds can serve as a more affordable and accessible sound amplification device than medical hearing aids. Gizmodo reports: Inspired by a feature called Live Listen released in 2016 by Apple, which allows an iPhone or iPad to be used as sound-boosting microphone, researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital wondered whether the performance of AirPods 2 and the original AirPods Pro using this feature could compare to medical hearing aids. Apple does not position Live Listen as a tool for those dealing with hearing loss but as a way for users with normal hearing to boost desired sounds, like the calls of a bird. However, the researchers found that, in some situations, consumer-level personal sound amplification products faired quite well against pricier medically prescribed solutions, and given the popularity of products like Apple’s AirPods, there’s no stigma associated with wearing them.

The researchers tested the $129 AirPods 2 and $249 AirPods Pro paired with iPhone XS Max smartphones running iOS 13. They compared these against the $10,000 OTICON Opn 1 behind-the-ear hearing aids and a more affordable alternative, the $1,500 Bernafon MD1. The four options were tested with 21 participants dealing with mild to moderate hearing loss, who were asked to repeat short sentences read to them by the researchers in varying environments. In a quiet setting, the AirPods Pro were found to perform as well as the cheaper hearing aids and almost as good as the premium model, while the Air Pods 2 performed the worst of all four tested devices but still helped participants hear what was being read to them more clearly than not using a sound-enhancing device at all. In a noisy environment, the AirPods Pro performed even closer to the premium hearing aid model, thanks to their built-in noise cancellation, but only when the distracting noises were coming from the sides of the participant. When the noise was coming from the front, alongside the sample sentences being read by the researchers, both wireless earbud products failed to help improve what was being heard. “Hearing aids remain the best option for those dealing with hearing loss, but for those who don’t have access to them for whatever reason, a cheaper product like Apple’s AirPods Pro could provide noticeable improvements in hearing and clarity for those dealing with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and could serve as a useful alternative until over-the-counter solutions are more readily available and affordable,” concludes the report.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration decided to allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter and without a prescription to adults, a decision that “could fundamentally change technology,” said Nicholas Reed, an audiologist at the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Sony’s first OTC hearing aids were announced last month.

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Meta’s AI-Powered Audio Codec Promises 10x Compression Over MP3

Last week, Meta announced an AI-powered audio compression method called “EnCodec” that can reportedly compress audio 10 times smaller than the MP3 format at 64kbps with no loss in quality. Meta says this technique could dramatically improve the sound quality of speech on low-bandwidth connections, such as phone calls in areas with spotty service. The technique also works for music. Ars Technica reports: Meta debuted the technology on October 25 in a paper titled “High Fidelity Neural Audio Compression,” authored by Meta AI researchers Alexandre Defossez, Jade Copet, Gabriel Synnaeve, and Yossi Adi. Meta also summarized the research on its blog devoted to EnCodec.

Meta describes its method as a three-part system trained to compress audio to a desired target size. First, the encoder transforms uncompressed data into a lower frame rate “latent space” representation. The “quantizer” then compresses the representation to the target size while keeping track of the most important information that will later be used to rebuild the original signal. (This compressed signal is what gets sent through a network or saved to disk.) Finally, the decoder turns the compressed data back into audio in real time using a neural network on a single CPU.

Meta’s use of discriminators proves key to creating a method for compressing the audio as much as possible without losing key elements of a signal that make it distinctive and recognizable: “The key to lossy compression is to identify changes that will not be perceivable by humans, as perfect reconstruction is impossible at low bit rates. To do so, we use discriminators to improve the perceptual quality of the generated samples. This creates a cat-and-mouse game where the discriminator’s job is to differentiate between real samples and reconstructed samples. The compression model attempts to generate samples to fool the discriminators by pushing the reconstructed samples to be more perceptually similar to the original samples.”

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