How the music industry is battling AI deepfakes one state at a time with the ELVIS Act

Must read

The Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act — created to protect a person’s voice, image and likeness against irresponsible and unethical uses of artificial intelligence (AI) — passed in the Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the House Commerce Committee on Feb. 27 with unanimous bipartisan support. 

Tennessee has an active music industry community, with its capital city known for being “Music City USA.” Therefore, it comes as no surprise that after the bill was introduced by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in January, it quickly advanced with broad support.

The committee hearings saw testimonies from prominent figures in the music community, like contemporary Christian artist-songwriters Natalie Grant and Matt Maher, as well as the hit songwriter and co-founder of Evanescence David Hodges.

Maher, in his testimony, said his voice and image are the things that set him apart and define him as an individual.

“When others use artists’ voices and likeness without consent, it is a personal and fundamental violation that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do.”

Also present at the hearing was Todd Dupler, the chief advocacy and public policy officer of the Recording Academy, the institution behind the yearly Grammy music awards

Cointelegraph had the opportunity to speak with Dupler about the Academy’s work on the ground with the Human Artistry Campaign and in state capitals advocating and defending artists’ rights in light of AI.

The right to deepfake (or not)

Since its emergence in the mainstream sphere, AI has become a major point of contention in the music industry. While some artists have keenly adopted and advocated for the technology, like electronic music artist Grimes, others have been sent into a frenzy over violations of intellectual property and the escalated emergence of deepfakes. 

Dupler said that of all the AI issues plaguing the creative community, the easiest to grasp is the idea of the AI-generated fakes.

“A lot of the AI issues are more complicated — more nuanced or legal ambiguity — but this one seems pretty clear that you shouldn’t be able to take somebody’s image, voice or likeness and use it without their permission.”

Many states in the United States have what is known as a “right of publicity” law, which protects artists from having their image or their name used to sell something or to promote something without their permission.

Although most of these were written and implemented before the age of AI and don’t cover the digital space or digital replicas.

Dupler said the goal is to update this for the digital age, with Tennessee being a “great place to start” due to its strong right of publicity law, which was used by the Elvis Presley estate to protect his legacy and name.

Related: AI resurrects Elvis Presley for comeback live performances

“We did name the bill after Elvis, which really would be the first law of its kind that protects image, likeness and voice for artists and specifically in the context of digital replicas and AI.” 

The Recording Academy executive said the organization has worked with the governor’s office and stakeholders in the music community to craft the legislation and get the governor on board. He said it is optimistic that the bill will pass the full legislature and be signed into law.

“We take nothing for granted,” he said, “which is why we get out and do the work that we did. Now that it’s cleared these committees, the next step would be for the bill to go to the floor of the Tennessee House and the Tennessee Senate for a full vote.”

AI creating bipartisan action 

Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, it has proved to be an issue uniting the music industry. 

Dupler said due to its diversity, it is difficult for the music community to get everyone aligned on the same page. “What we have found is that when we do find that alignment and common ground, we’re able to get great things done for the music community,” he said.

He pointed to two recent examples: the Music Modernization Act passed in 2018, which modernized music licensing laws for the first time in 20-plus years, and also the Save our Stages Act in 2020, which came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the largest infusion of aid to the arts in U.S. history.

“Two things back to back and different spaces, but places where the music community was able to come together to accomplish something,” he said. “We’re hopeful in this context with AI particularly protecting likeness and voice and image, that we can do the same thing.”

Not only is the music industry coming together, but regulators across the political aisle. Dupler said it’s rare when there is such bipartisan agreement around an issue.

“It’s always really hard to predict what’s going to happen with Congress or with legislation. I don’t know how long it will take for legislation to work its way through the process, but I think they know this is something they need to address.”

Politicians and political figures themselves are not exempt from the wrath of deepfakes. In January, deepfake scammers created a replica of U.S. President Joe Biden’s voice, which they used in scam robocalls to dissuade voters from participating in a local election. 

As Elvis once sang — it’s now or never 

If such legislation is not taken seriously, or worse not implemented in some capacity the implications can go beyond affecting a single artist. The ELVIS Act doesn’t just protect creatives and public figures, but every citizen abiding under that law. 

“There is this sense of real personal violation when you see technology able to appropriate your image and voice and do things that you didn’t do.”

Dupler pointed to the artist Lainey Wilson, who testified before members of Congress that her likeness was used to sell weight loss gummies that she was not involved in. 

“She takes seriously that she has young fans, girls that look up to her and take what she says very seriously and hang on to it,” he said. “If she were being used to sell something that she didn’t endorse, that could really mislead and distort how these fans look at her and what they might do.”

Nonetheless, he said the Recording Academy thinks “AI has a lot of promise to democratize the creation of music, to make music available to more people. Maybe create new efficiencies or new creative ideas that we haven’t even thought of yet, of ways people can create music.”

“However, knowing how fast the technology moves we know we have to set up guardrails really quickly before it moves beyond a point where we can put those protections around it.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by the CEO of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr., in a 2023 interview with Cointelegraph on the topic who said that while needing the right regulations, AI has the potential to be a “creative amplifier.” 

Magazine: BitCulture: Fine art on Solana, AI music, podcast + book reviews

More articles

Latest article