Universal Music Group is asking Congress to enact tougher AI protections

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Universal Music Congress AI

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Photo credit: United States Capitol

Universal Music Group is asking Congress to enact tougher protections for artificial intelligence during recent congressional hearing on AI – “You have an opportunity to provide legal clarity.”

During the year, Universal Music Group called for the introduction of a nationwide advertising law latest Congressional Hearing on Artificial Intelligence, which also sets out the Human Artistry Campaign’s agenda and highlights its importance transparency Around Generative AI – Seek clarity on when AI was used to generate content and what data was used to train an AI model.

The House Judiciary Committee previously held a session that explicitly detailed the copyright issues raised by AI. The Senate Judiciary Committee did the same, with Jeff Harleston, Universal Music’s general counsel and executive vice president of business and legal affairs, testifying on behalf of the music industry during the session.

While Harleston emphasized that Universal Music and the music industry at large are happy to work with makers of generative AI technology, those tech companies must respect copyright and other artists’ rights. For the music industry, this starts with companies obtaining licenses from record labels and music publishers before using existing recordings to train their AI models.

“It’s inconceivable that AI companies and developers would think that the rules and laws that apply to other companies and developers don’t apply to them,” Harleston said. “Beyond the issue of copyright infringement, these generative AI companies often source our content from sources that expressly prohibit downloading and use of that content outside of personal and non-commercial purposes.”

“We’ve also seen examples of AI-generated music being used to generate fraudulent renditions on streaming services, siphoning incoming data from human creators,” he continued. “And we’ve seen many worrying cases where an artist’s name, likeness, likeness or voice has been used without their knowledge or permission to create videos in which they said things they didn’t say, to use his voice and recordings without his knowledge, or to exploit her name to promote fraudulent works.”

Harleston urges lawmakers to heed the music industry-led Human Artistry Campaign, which insists that permission must be obtained before AI companies use copyrighted works or attempt to impersonate the voices or identities of human creators or to clone. In addition, no new copyright exceptions should be considered that could override this requirement in the future.

Specifically, Harleston referenced the headline-grabbing “Deepfake” track and used vocal clones from Drake and The Weeknd, both signed to Universal. When artists try to protect their voice or identity, it’s more than just a matter of copyright protection—publicity or privacy rights would likely come into play to claim that level of legal protection. But in the US, publicity rights exist at a state level, not at a US-wide federal level.

“We urge you to enact a federal right to publicity law,” Harleston said. “Deepfake and/or unauthorized recordings or images of artists generated by AI could lead to consumer confusion, unfair competition with the actual artist, market dilution and damage to the artist’s reputation and brand – and possibly irreparable damage to their Career.”

“An artist’s voice is the most valuable part of their livelihood and public persona, and stealing it by any means is wrong.”