Universal Music Group calls on US Congress to pass new rules regulating AI

Photo credit: S.Borisov/Shutterstock

Universal Music Group (UMG), the world’s largest music rights holder, has called on the US Congress to enact laws protecting creators and other rights holders against copyright infringement by AI developers and users.

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on intellectual property on Wednesday (July 12), Jeffrey Harleston, General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs at UMG, laid out three specific laws UMG would like to see enacted.

They include: A nationwide right of publicity law; the ability of copyright owners to see what has gone into the training of AI models; and the labeling of AI-generated content.

“Right of publicity” refers to an intellectual property right that protects against the unauthorized use of a person’s likeness, voice or other aspects of their identity.

The concept has become a hot topic now that AI apps have given users the ability to create music that convincingly imitates an artist’s music or vocals – as witnessed earlier this year with the viral “fake Drake” track. Both artists who were imitated on that song – Drake and The Weeknd – are signed to UMG labels.

“Deep fakes and or unauthorized recordings or visuals of artists generated by AI can lead to consumer confusion, unfair competition against the artist that actually was the original creator, market dilution and damage to the artist’s reputation, potentially irreparably harming their career,” Harleston told the senators on the subcommittee.

“An artist’s voice is often the most valuable part of their livelihood and public persona, and to steal it, no matter the means, is wrong.”

About half of US states have right of publicity laws. Harleston argued that a federal statute would eliminate the inconsistencies that exist from state to state surrounding right of publicity laws.

He stressed that AI developers have a responsibility to obtain permission from copyright holders to train their AI models on copyrighted material – a position that got some pushback from Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who questioned whether it’s practical for AI developers to clear every piece of copyrighted content they use for training, given the vast amounts of data AI models typically need to train on.

Harleston responded: “It absolutely could be done, as the digital platforms that exist today … license millions and millions of songs every week, so it’s not a problem in that respect. There’s metadata that we could license, we could absolutely do that, but there has to be an initiative on the side of the [AI] companies to reach out.”

UMG is among the many music industry organizations that have signed up to the Human Artistry Campaign, a group formed earlier this year for the purpose of advocating for creators’ rights in the development of AI technologies.

Harleston told Congress members that UMG fully agrees with the seven principles set out by Human Artistry Campaign to guide the development of AI policy.

Those principles state that: technology has long empowered human expression, and AI will be no different; human-created works will continue to play an essential role in our lives; and use of copyrighted works, and use of the voices and likenesses of professional performers, requires authorization, licensing, and compliance with all relevant state and federal laws.

The campaign also stresses that copyright should only protect the unique value of human intellectual creativity; that trustworthiness and transparency are essential to the success of AI and protection of creators; and that creators’ interests must be represented in policymaking.

“An artist’s voice is often the most valuable part of their livelihood and public persona, and to steal it, no matter the means, is wrong.”

Jeffrey Harleston, Universal Music Group

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings this summer on a variety of issues related to the explosion of AI technology in recent months, in advance of legislation regulating AI that is expected to be put forward in Congress later this year. This week’s hearing focused specifically on the relationship between AI and intellectual property rights.

The US is behind some other jurisdictions in developing new laws to regulate the development of AI. Regulators in China have released two rounds of new regulations guiding AI over the past six months, while the European Union last month advanced the EU AI Act, a wide-ranging piece of legislation that goes part of the way towards what UMG’s Harleston called for in Congress this week.

Under the EU’s proposed law, developers of “foundational” AI models – meaning major AI applications from which other AI algorithms can be built – would have to disclose whether they used copyrighted materials in training their models.

Developers would also be required to publish summaries of the copyrighted data they used for training purposes.

However, the law doesn’t expand on the right of publicity, which is only narrowly recognized under EU law today.

“AI in the service of artists and creativity can be a very very good thing, but AI that uses or … appropriates the work of these artists and creators and their creative expression … without authorization, without consent simply is not a good thing.”

Jeffrey Harleston, Universal Music Group

UMG has been at the forefront of the music industry’s efforts to ensure that AI development respects copyright – even before the “fake Drake” track impacted two of its biggest-selling artists.

Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge was among the first prominent figures to express concerns publicly about the unauthorized training of AI on copyrighted materials.

“The recent explosive development in generative AI will, if left unchecked, both increase the flood of unwanted content hosted on platforms and create rights issues with respect to existing copyright law in the US and other countries – as well as laws governing trademark, name and likeness, voice impersonation and the right of publicity,” Grainge said during the company’s Q1 2023 earnings call.

Added Grainge: “Unlike its predecessors, much of the latest generative AI is trained on copyrighted material, which clearly violates artists’ and labels’ rights…”

In his remarks before Congress Wednesday, Harleston emphasized that UMG doesn’t see AI as only a negative – and in fact uses the technology itself to improve the creative process.

“AI in the service of artists and creativity can be a very, very good thing, but AI that uses or – worse yet – appropriates the work of these artists and creators and their creative expression – their name, their image, their likeness, their voice – without authorization, without consent simply is not a good thing,” Harleston said.Music Business Worldwide

Related Posts