Universal Music Group Calls on Congress to Enact Stricter AI Protections

Universal Music Congress AI
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Universal Music Congress AI
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Photo Credit: United States Capitol

Universal Music Group calls on Congress to enact stricter artificial intelligence protections during the latest Congressional hearing on AI — ‘You have an opportunity to establish legal clarity.’

Universal Music Group called for the introduction of a nationwide publicity right during the latest Congressional hearing on artificial intelligence, also setting out the agenda of the Human Artistry Campaign and stressing the importance of transparency around generative AI — seeking clarity on when AI has been used to generate content and what data was used to train any one AI model.

The House Judiciary Committee previously held a session explicitly detailing copyright issues raised by AI. The Senate Judiciary Committee has done the same, with testimony from Universal Music’s Jeff Harleston, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, on behalf of the music industry during the session.

While Harleston stressed that Universal Music and the overall music industry are eager to collaborate with the makers of generative AI technologies, those tech companies must respect copyright and other artist rights. For the music industry, this begins with those companies seeking licenses from record labels and music publishers before using any existing recordings to train their AI models.

“It’s unfathomable to think AI companies and developers think the rules and laws that apply to other companies and developers don’t apply to them,” said Harleston. “Beyond the issue of copyright infringement, these generative AI companies are often obtaining our content from sources that explicitly 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 plays on streaming services, siphoning incoming from human creators,” he continued. “And we’ve seen many troubling cases where an artist’s name, image, likeness, or voice is used without their knowledge or authorization to generate videos of them saying things they didn’t say, to use their voice and recordings without their knowledge, or to exploit their name to promote fraudulent works.”

Harleston urges lawmakers to pay attention to the music industry-led Human Artistry Campaign, which insists that permission must be sought before any AI companies utilize copyright-protected works or seek to imitate or clone the voices or identities of human creators. Further, no new copyright exceptions that could remove that requirement in the future should be considered.

Specifically, Harleston referenced the headline-grabbing “deepfake” track using vocal clones of Drake and The Weeknd, both signed under Universal. When artists seek to protect their voices or identities, it becomes more than just a copyright protection issue — publicity or personality rights would likely come into play to invoke that level of legal protection. But in the US, publicity rights exist by state rather than a US-wide federal level.

“We urge you to enact a federal right of publicity statute,” said Harleston. “Deepfake and/or unauthorized recordings or visuals of artists generated by AI could lead to consumer confusion, unfair competition against the actual artist, market dilution, and damage to the artist’s reputation and brand — potentially irreparably harming their career.”

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