LONDON — Amid increasing concern among artists, songwriters, record labels and publishers over the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the music industry, European regulators are finalizing sweeping new laws that will help determine what AI companies can and cannot do with copyrighted music works.  

On Wednesday (June 14), Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act with 499 votes for, 28 against and 93 abstentions. The draft legislation, which was first proposed in April 2021 and covers a wide range of AI applications, including its use in the music industry, will now go before the European Parliament, European Commission and the European Council for review and possible amendments ahead of its planned adoption by the end of the year.  

For music rightsholders, the European Union’s (EU) AI Act is the world’s first legal framework for regulating AI technology in the record business and comes as other countries, including the United States, China and the United Kingdom, explore their own paths to policing the rapidly evolving AI sector.  

The EU proposals state that generative AI systems will be forced to disclose any content that they produce which is AI-generated — helping distinguish deep-fake content from the real thing — and provide detailed publicly available summaries of any copyright-protected music or data that they have used for training purposes.    

“The AI Act will set the tone worldwide in the development and governance of artificial intelligence,” MEP and co-rapporteur Dragos Tudorache said following Wednesday’s vote. The EU legislation would ensure that AI technology “evolves and is used in accordance with the European values of democracy, fundamental rights, and the rule of law,” he added.

The EU’s AI Act arrives as the music business is urgently trying to respond to recent advances in the technology. The issue came to a head in April with the release of “Heart on My Sleeve,” the now-infamous song uploaded to TikTok that is said to have been created using AI to imitate vocals from Drake and The Weeknd. The song was quickly pulled from streaming services following a request from Universal Music Group, which represents both artists, but not before it had racked up hundreds of thousands of streams.

A few days before “Heart on My Sleeve” become a short-lived viral hit, UMG wrote to streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music, asking them to stop AI companies from accessing the label’s copyrighted songs “without obtaining the required consents” to “train” their machines. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has also warned against AI companies violating copyrights by using existing music to generate new tunes. 

If the EU’s AI Act passes in its present draft form, it will strengthen supplementary protections against the unlawful use of music in training AI systems. Existing European laws dealing with text and data-mining copyright exceptions mean that rightsholders will still technically need to opt out of those exceptions if they want to ensure their music is not used by AI companies that are either operating or accessible in the European Union.

The AI Act would not undo or change any of the copyright protections currently provided under EU law, including the Copyright Directive, which came into force in 2019 and effectively ended safe harbor provisions for digital platforms in Europe.  

That means that if an AI company were to use copyright-protected songs for training purposes — and publicly declare the material it had used as required by the AI Act — it would still be subject to infringement claims for any AI-generated content it then tried to commercially release, including infringement of the copyright, legal, personality and data rights of artists and rightsholders.   

“What cannot, is not, and will not be tolerated anywhere is infringement of songwriters’ and composers’ rights,” said John Phelan, director general of international music publishing trade association ICMP, in a statement. The AI Act, he says, will ensure “special attention for intellectual property rights” but further improvements to the legislation “are there to be won.”

Alexei Barrionuevo
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