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Government urged to protect songs and books from AI mining

The Government must not allow artificial intelligence (AI) developers the free use of copyrighted songs and books for training, MPs have urged.

Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee told ministers to heed the “chorus of warnings from musicians, authors and artists” about the risks of failing to protect intellectual property from the rapidly advancing technology.

The cross-party group of MPs said the Government must follow through on its pledge and abandon plans to exempt text and data mining by AI from copyright protections.

Data mining is a way of deriving information such as patterns and trends from different sources, including books, websites and music.

Figures from across the creative industries have expressed concerns about the impact such a process will have on arts and cultural production.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of British trade body UK Music, has warned of the potential of “music laundering” where “AI companies essentially take music they do not own, use copies of it to train an AI, and then reap the commercial rewards with a legally ‘clean’ new song”, the committee said.

Abba Voyage
The Abba Voyage virtual concert (Johan Persson/Abba Voyage)

Svana Gisla, producer of the virtual concert residency Abba Voyage, told the committee any such exemption would be “terrible”, saying: “Our emerging, new and existing artists have a hard enough time surviving in life, let alone if they have to compete against computers on top of that.”

Last June, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced proposals to introduce a “copyright and database exception which allows (text and data mining) for any purpose”.

In response to concerns from across the industry, the Government appears to have since changed course, saying it no longer wants to proceed with the original plans.

In a report released on Wednesday, the committee praised the Government for listening to stakeholders but warned its initial handling of the issue showed a “clear lack of understanding” of the needs of the UK’s creative industries.

The report recommends the Government provide a “substantive update” on its direction in managing the impact of AI on the industries by the end of 2023.

Instead of a broad text and data mining exemption to copyright, it proposes “proactive support” for small AI developers in particular, who may encounter difficulties in acquiring licences.

This would include reviewing how licensing schemes can be introduced for technical material and how mutually beneficial arrangements can be struck with rights management organisations and creative industries trade bodies, it said.

Dame Caroline Dinenage, chairwoman of the committee, said: “The chorus of warnings from musicians, authors and artists about the real and lasting harm a failure to protect intellectual property in a world where the influence of AI is growing should be enough for Ministers to sit up and take notice.

“The Government must now start to rebuild trust by showing it really understands where the creative industries are coming from and develop a copyright and regulatory regime that properly protects them as AI continues to disrupt traditional cultural production.

“The development and use of creative technology is currently being hampered by a shortage in technical skills. For the UK to fulfil its potential as a world leader in the creative industries, the Government must commit to ensuring the right skills are being taught to ensure a pathway for the next generation of digital artists, visual effects professionals and innovators.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We will take a balanced and pragmatic approach to the use of AI across creative industries, which allows both AI innovators and our world-leading creative industries sector to continue to grow.

“To support this, the Intellectual Property Office is working with AI firms and rights holders to produce an agreement and guidance on copyright.

“This supports our ambition to make the UK a world leader in AI research and development, while making sure our copyright framework continues to promote and reward innovation and investment in the UK’s creative industries.

“We are working closely with stakeholders to understand the impact AI has on broadcasters, publishers and creative businesses.”