Universal Music Group has been asking music streaming services like Spotify to stop developers from scraping its material to coach AI bots to make latest songs. The label, which controls a couple of third of the recorded music industry, has also been issuing substantial numbers of takedown requests in relation to AI uploads appearing online.

It is the most recent move within the music industry’s growing battle to stop AIs from using its songs without licensing them. Behind these efforts to implement copyright, the massive worry is about how governments will balance the rights of AIs against human creativity.

In particular, the UK government is threatening to water down copyright laws to learn tech firms on the expense of not only the music industry but in addition creative businesses like literature, movies and photography. So what’s happening?

AI music and copyright

On a “royalty free music generator” like Mubert, it’s already possible to type in a prompt and the programme will use AI to go looking a list of music for patterns. Tell it to play a “fast voodoo rhythm within the sort of a nursery rhyme with some pretty electronics”, and it would copy parts of songs that correspond and generate music to match. You can even generate music that feels like a specific artist, and whatever tracks you create are downloadable.

Mubert claims to be “on a worldwide mission to empower creators”. It is unclear how that squares with not paying human creators royalties for the usage of their music. Mubert even emphasises that its audio material is made “from real musicians and producers”, recognising that the worth within the music is coming from human creators.

Music is protected by copyright law, which suggests that anyone wanting to make use of a song has to pay a licence. This ensures that rightsholders and creators are paid properly for his or her creativity. For example, Spotify pays a licence to record labels and artists to place music on its platform. The same is true of everyone from bars, cafes and pubs playing records for his or her customers to artists sampling another person’s song of their latest track.

If AI programmes are using labels’ music catalogues without permission, they might be seen to have infringed music rights in at the very least two ways: by utilizing the music to coach the AIs, and in copying parts of the music that the AI produces from the training data.

If the streaming platforms were seen to have facilitated such criminal activity, they might be found guilty of secondary copyright infringement, comparable to an illegal downloading platform like The Pirate Bay.

Unfortunately for the music industry, the UK government has been muddying the waters with proposals to vary the copyright rules to learn tech firms. A number of months ago, it floated the concept of creating an exception for the primary variety of infringement: using music catalogues as training data. This would also apply to other artistic works like videos and images.

Place your bets.

There are already copyright exceptions within the UK where permission for reuse is unnecessary, similar to “criticism, review or quotation”, though there are limitations to ensure that this is completed fairly.

When governments wish to create a brand new exception, they need to follow three requirements set out within the Berne convention. It should be for very specific special circumstances, must not interfere with the traditional exploitation of the work and must not unreasonably prejudice the rightsholder. In my view, the UK proposal doesn’t meet any of those steps and could be contrary to international law.

The battle for the UK

The proposed exception met with widespread objections, with only 13 out of 88 responses to the consultation in favour. The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee said the proposal is “misguided” and ought to be scrapped. The government white paper, A Pro-Innovation Approach to AI Regulation, which raised the prospect that it could be reviving its previous approach. The white paper desires to prioritise making the UK a tech-friendly environment, emphasising “the role of regulation in creating the environment for AI to flourish”. It mentions risks to things like mental health, privacy rights and human rights, but not any threats to mental property (IP).

This comes at a time when governments world wide and international organisations similar to the World Intellectual Property Organization are considering how laws have to adapt to AI. Japan and Singapore are already introducing copyright exceptions along similar lines to those being discussed within the UK. This can also be a significant concern for the creative industries, but to not the identical extent because the UK, which tends to be particularly influential in IP law world wide.

There are not any proposals for copyright exceptions within the US or the EU. Indeed the US IP laws are currently being tested by photographic giant Getty Images against an AI operator called Stability Diffusion, which has been scraping its images to generate latest ones. US copyright has a “fair use” exception which could potentially be a defence for these operators, so Getty wants confirmation that is just not the case. It has also filed a case along the identical lines within the UK, which is at an earlier stage.

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This all boils right down to whether we still consider human creativity deserves greater protection than machine creativity. Appealing to tech might look like an excellent strategy for the UK, however the creative industries contribute hugely to the economy – £109 billion in 2021, or nearly 6% of total GDP.

The value of music also goes beyond raw economics, offering emotional comfort, health advantages and even inspiring social, political and economic change. The creators should arguably be rewarded for this too, whether or not they are accountable for composing music directly or providing the fabric that AI repurposes.

Copyright law is purported to be certain that creators are fairly remunerated for his or her work. When it brings such value to the world, it looks as if a powerful argument for shielding it.

This article was originally published at theconversation.com