‘The pathway to a robust framework for the safe development of AI is not an aspiration, it is a necessity.’

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MBW Views is a series of exclusive op/eds from eminent music industry people… with something to say.

In the first of a regular series of columns from senior figures at UK collection society PRS for Music, Chief Strategy, Communications & Public Affairs Officer John Mottram (pictured inset) tackles the most controversial topic of our times, AI…

The music industry finds itself at a crucial crossroads. The decisions taken by legislators, themselves struggling to grasp the relentless evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, will have profound implications for the future of the creative industries. 

To grasp the importance of this moment, it’s essential to understand why, despite the music industry’s proven adaptability to technological shifts, the challenge of AI feels so daunting for so many.

This is not anti-AI sentiment. It’s important to emphasise many music creators have already integrated AI into their working lives, finding new ways to innovate and express themselves with tools that both simplify and elevate their music. Production, mixing and the creation of album artwork are all simplified by the application of AI.

But creators’ enthusiasm towards AI is more than matched, indeed often surpassed, by their apprehension. Our recent survey of PRS members revealed the depth of these concerns: nearly 75% of respondents worry that AI-generated music will directly compete with human-created compositions, while around 70% believe their livelihoods will be negatively impacted by AI.

Some argue that, in the unstoppable and inevitable march of progress, there will always be winners and losers. They paint the picture of AI as the democratisation of creativity, envisaging a world where everyone can create music with the click of a button, regardless of their musical talent. However, a critical flaw in this argument lies in the suggestion that any harm to human creativity is outweighed by AI’s wider societal benefits; that AI is a benevolent gift to our culture.

AI music services are unmistakeably commercial in nature. They typically operate on subscription models, some costing up to £50/60 a month, with terms of service asserting control over any works created on their platforms. A simple search for ‘AI music’ on your favourite search engine or app store will return hundreds of services offering the chance to create and use AI-generated music, apparently royalty-free –but only if you pay for it.

This is not an argument against competition: it is a challenge to how that competition is being allowed to evolve. The commercial endeavours of AI music services are entirely dependent on the very works they are seeking to displace. Put simply, AI systems learn and develop using the songs and compositions of human creators, without the permission or remuneration of those rights-holders. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that many songwriters and composers don’t see AI as a gift.

As an industry, we must vehemently oppose the premise that our collective musical history is merely another subset of data to be consumed by AI. The notion of web-scraping musical works without the permission of the individual copyright owners is not an inevitable consequence of progress. The text and data mining exception, as it exists in various jurisdictions, is not a legal loophole through which musical works can be ingested for the purpose of creating and monetising a competing product. For the avoidance of doubt, nor is it fair use – there is nothing fair about these practices.

Copyright is not an inconvenience in the AI age. The principles of authorisation and moral rights are more important than ever: after all, this is what it means to own one’s works. In this respect we must applaud the EU’s recently proposed AI Act, which states clearly that AI providers operating in the single market must adhere to its copyright laws, irrespective of where the service is based or its model trained.

Transparency is also paramount: if creators are left in the dark about whether AI has ingested their work, they’re powerless to act. You shouldn’t need a Masters in Computer Science to protect your rights. The onus must be on AI providers to produce easily accessible information setting out how their services operate, on what basis their models are trained and the works they have used. 

While it shouldn’t need to be said – although too often it must – copyright owners must be paid fairly for the use of their works.

“As an industry, we must oppose the premise that our musical history is merely another subset of data to be consumed by AI.”

It is estimated there are over 300,000 AI practitioners and researchers concentrating on advancing AI capabilities globally, but only a few hundred are dedicated to ensuring its safety. This suggests an unbalanced emphasis on the art of the possible, without the necessary consideration for safeguards. 

The pathway to a robust framework for the safe development of AI is not an aspiration, it is a necessity. Safeguards need to be global, underpinned by internationally agreed commitments, common processes and tools. The current market ambiguity serves neither creators’ nor AI services’ needs.

As an industry, we must play our part. Our survey found that around three in five PRS members need more support to understand how AI could impact their careers. Individually and collectively, we must build a common knowledge base on AI, defining both the unique opportunities and challenges it will bring. This is a global debate that needs to be had by us all.  

It is almost impossible to believe the world would be a better place without human creativity in all its forms. It therefore requires all of us to ensure we practically protect this most valuable expression of what it means to be human.

Prs’s ai Principles

For 110 years, safeguarding its members’ creative works has been PRS’s core mission. AI’s evolution is increasingly presenting a range of challenges and opportunities for the music industry. 

PRS believes AI must operate within a strong legal and regulatory framework which maximises its benefits but protects against its possible harms, including to human creativity.

With this in mind, PRS has established a set of guiding principles that underpin how it works with AI services and how it advocates on behalf of its members with government and policymakers.

Protection of human creativity 

Music is an expression of human emotion, a record of our shared lived experience. Songwriters and composers are at the core of all great music. PRS for Music is committed to championing human creativity, including by ensuring creators are paid and credited whenever and wherever their works are used.


Authorisation is the central pillar of copyright and must be protected. Rights-holders should always have the right to decide whether their works are used, including by AI systems. Music is not data, it should not be mined for others’ benefit.


Auditability and transparency must be enshrined in the development of all AI systems. AI-generated content should be clearly labelled as such, for everyone to see.

Global co-operation 

PRS for Music will work with its partners around the world to secure an enforceable regulatory framework for AI companies, one which holds them accountable for their actions.

This article originally appeared in the latest (Q1 2024) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK, which is out now.

MBUK is available as part of a DIGITAL + PHYSICAL MBW+ subscription – details through here.

All physical subscribers will receive a complimentary digital edition with each issue. Music Business Worldwide

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