UK government embarks on U-turn surrounding AI copyright exemption

August 30, 2023

Parliament AI

A cross-party committee of Members of Parliament (MPs) has called on the UK government to reconsider its stance on text and data mining in relation to copyrighted material. 

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) had previously proposed a copyright exemption allowing text and data mining for any purpose, effectively freeing AI developers to use existing music, literature, and art for training their systems. 

This move was resisted strongly by figures across the creative sector and wider society. 

MPs formed a committee to debate the matter via consultations, which eventually culminated in them recommending the government not to continue with the plans. 

The committee expressed concerns about the potential negative impact of AI on the creative industries, particularly music, literature, and arts.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music, coined the term “music laundering” to describe the risk. He said that AI companies could potentially “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.” 

Major multinational record labels like Sony and Universal are already moving to prevent AI-generated music from hoovering up their artists’ plays and revenue. 

Svana Gisla, producer of the virtual concert residency Abba Voyage, said that any such copyright exemption like that proposed by the UK government would be disastrous, stating, “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.”

Revised approach

In March, the UK government indicated that it is reconsidering its original plans, stating it no longer wants to proceed with the text and data mining exemption. 

On the 30th of August, a UK parliament committee press release confirmed that MPs supported abandoning the exemption pledge. 

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, remarked, “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 report recommends that the government should provide a “substantive update” on its plans for managing the impact of AI on the creative industries by the end of 2023. It also proposes “proactive support” for smaller AI developers struggling to acquire licenses.

Furthermore, the report advises the government to create mutually beneficial licensing schemes in consultation with rights management organizations and creative industry trade bodies. 

It calls for urgent action to improve protections for artists, especially against the misuse of their likeness and performances by AI. 

This has become a prolific issue in the US, where film, TV, and media workers are currently striking over the potential for AI to seize and replicate their work without fair payment. 

Government’s response

The government stated that it aims for a “balanced and pragmatic approach,” allowing both AI innovators and the creative industries to continue to grow. 

The Intellectual Property Office is said to be working with AI firms and rights holders to produce agreement and guidance on copyright issues.

This move is part of a broader strategy to make the UK a world leader in AI research and development.

Plans to enable free reign over copyrighted data for dataset production were always viewed as far-fetched, so this U-turn is perhaps expected. 

Those familiar with UK politics in recent times will know that U-turns have become a well-worn direction of travel for policy in recent years. 

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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