As landmark AI Act passes EU parliament vote, rightsholders urge ‘meaningful and effective’ enforcement of copyright

Guillaume Perigois via Unsplash
The Paul-Henri Spaak building at the European Parliament.

Music industry groups have welcomed the European Parliament’s passing of the Western world’s first comprehensive regulations on the development and use of AI, and urge the EU to enforce the law’s copyright provisions in a “meaningful and effective” way.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) passed the AI ACT on Wednesday (March 13), with 523 votes in favor, 46 against and 49 abstentions.

The law now needs to be approved by individual EU member states on the European Council, which is usually just a formality. Various parts of it will come into force six to 36 months after the law is published in the EU’s Official Journal.

The law, which has been negotiated for two years, seeks to strike a balance between regulating the use of AI to prevent potential negative consequences for the public and creating an environment that allows European tech companies to compete with the US and China in the rapidly-growing field of AI.

Crucially for the music industry, the law addresses the use of copyrighted materials in the training of AI, an issue that has sparked a wave of copyright infringement lawsuits in the US against AI developers.

The EU law requires developers of “general purpose AI” (GPAI) models to keep track of and disclose what content is used in training. It further states that “any use of copyright protected content requires the authorization of the [rights holder] concerned, unless relevant copyright exceptions and limitations apply.”

“Crucially, this appears to apply even if the training was carried out in another more lenient jurisdiction,” said Jonathan Coote, a music and AI lawyer at UK law firm Bray & Krais.

Coote added that the law will “require deep fakes, including voice clones, to be labeled as fakes. This will be welcomed by artists but won’t actually stop these deep fakes from being circulated. We may well need a separate digital representation right to stop this from happening, as has been proposed in the US.”

The US House of Representatives is deliberating the No AI FRAUD Act, which spells out “an intellectual property right that every individual holds over their own likeness and voice” and allows individuals to sue if their likeness or voice was used without permission in an AI-generated deep fake.

Consent of intellectual property rights holders for the use of their materials in AI development has been a key ask of the music industry, both in the EU and in the US, in the drafting of AI policy.

However, some legal analysts have pointed out that there are ambiguities in the new EU law – for instance, which AI technologies are covered under the term “general purpose AI.”

Additionally, there is an exception to copyright law that allows “temporary acts of reproduction which are an essential part of a technological process.”

It’s possible that the use of copyrighted materials in building AI models could be interpreted as just such a “temporary act of reproduction.”

“We call on the European Parliament to continue to support the development of responsible and sustainable AI by ensuring that these important rules are put into practice in a meaningful and effective way, aligned with the objectives of the regulation.”

CISAC, IFPI, et al, in a joint statement

Ambiguities such as these may help explain why a group of trade organizations representing intellectual property rights holders, including a number of music industry groups, offered a cautious welcome to the passing of the new law.

“While these obligations provide a first step for rightsholders to enforce their rights, we call on the European Parliament to continue to support the development of responsible and sustainable AI by ensuring that these important rules are put into practice in a meaningful and effective way, aligned with the objectives of the regulation,” the group said in a statement.

“To achieve this, it is essential that the template for the sufficient level of information that General Purpose AI model providers must make available enables effective exercise and enforcement of copyright and other fundamental rights, and that creative sectors and rightsholders are formally and directly involved in its drafting.”

Among the groups signing on the statement are CISAC, an umbrella group of authors’ and composers’ societies; ICMP, the global trade association for the music publishing industry; IFPI, a global recording industry group; IMPF, which represents independent music publishers globally; and IMPALA, the European association of independent music companies.

The AI Act goes well beyond issues of copyright, banning certain uses of AI, such as biometric categorization systems that use “sensitive” characteristics, such as political, religious or philosophical views, or sexual orientation and race.

It bans emotion recognition software in schools and workplaces; “untargeted scraping” of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases; social scoring based on behavior or personal characteristics; AI systems that manipulate behavior to “circumvent free will”; and the use of AI to exploit people’s vulnerabilities, due to age, disability, or their social or economic situation.

It also requires developers of “high-risk” AI systems to carry out “fundamental rights impact assessments” on their technologies, and mandates the creation of “sandboxes” where high-risk AI would be tested, before being placed on the market.

And it gives EU citizens the right to launch complaints about AI systems and “receive explanations about decisions based on high-risk AI systems that impact their rights.”

AI firms had too much influence on law, consumer watchdogs say

Despite these restrictions, some consumer watchdog groups have criticized the legislation, arguing that its measures were “watered down” due to pressure from the AI business community and certain national leaders – in particular, French President Emmanuel Macron – who argued that restricting AI development too much would mean Europe would fall behind the US and China in the development of the technology.

In a report issued shortly before the parliamentary vote, the watchdog group Corporate Europe Observatory argued that two AI startups – France’s Mistral AI and Germany’s Aleph Alpha – along with Big Tech companies such as Google, OpenAI and Microsoft, “successfully captured the policy-making process, and undermined the AI Act.”

These tech companies “had privileged access to the highest levels of decision-making, leveraging the two member states France and Germany to dilute any requirements on developers of general-purpose AI under the pretense of ‘creating European champions’,” the group asserted.

“We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence, to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency.”

Brando Benifei, MEP

Nonetheless, the key lawmakers involved in passing the legislation in the European Parliament defended the law as having struck a balance between AI’s potentially negative consequences and its benefits, and promoted the law as a template for the rest of the world to follow.

“We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence, to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency. Thanks to Parliament, unacceptable AI practices will be banned in Europe and the rights of workers and citizens will be protected,” said Italian MEP Brando Benifei, co-rapporteur on the Internal Market Committee.

“The AI Office will now be set up to support companies to start complying with the rules before they enter into force. We ensured that human beings and European values are at the very center of AI’s development.”

Romanian MEP Dragos Tudorache, co-rapporteur on the Civil Liberties Committee, added that “much work lies ahead that goes beyond the AI Act itself. AI will push us to rethink the social contract at the heart of our democracies, our education models, labor markets, and the way we conduct warfare. The AI Act is a starting point for a new model of governance built around technology. We must now focus on putting this law into practice.”Music Business Worldwide

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