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The ELVIS Act And What It Means For The Music Industry And AI

As reported by Cointelegraph, in a comprehensive conversation, Todd Dupler, the chief officer of advocacy and public policy for the Recording Academy, elucidates on the potential of the ELVIS Act to counteract the misuse of one's voice, image, and likeness through artificial intelligence.

The Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act, legislation designed to safeguard a person's voice, image, and likeness against the irresponsible and unethical applications of artificial intelligence, was successfully passed in the Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the House Commerce Committee on February 27, with unanimous bipartisan backing.

The state of Tennessee, known for its vibrant music industry and often referred to as "Music City USA," has been particularly proactive in addressing this issue. The bill was introduced by the state's Governor, Bill Lee, in January, and it quickly gained widespread support.

The legislative process saw testimonies from prominent figures within the music community, including contemporary Christian artist-songwriters Natalie Grant and Matt Maher, as well as the hit songwriter and co-founder of Evanescence, David Hodges.

Maher, during his testimony, emphasized that his voice and image are the defining elements of his identity as an artist.

"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."

Todd Dupler, the chief advocacy and public policy officer of the Recording Academy, was present at the hearing. The Recording Academy, the organization behind the prestigious Grammy Awards, has been actively involved in groundwork with the Human Artistry Campaign and advocating for artists' rights in the context of AI.

Cointelegraph had the privilege of speaking with Dupler regarding the Academy's endeavors in this area.

Since its emergence in the mainstream, AI has become a topic of intense debate within the music industry. While some artists have embraced and advocated for the technology, like electronic music artist Grimes, others have expressed concerns over intellectual property violations and the proliferation of deepfakes.

Dupler explained that the most straightforward AI issue for the creative community is the creation of 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 U.S. have a "right of publicity" law, which protects artists from having their image or name used to sell something or to promote something without their consent. However, most of these laws were written and implemented before the advent of AI and do not cover digital space or digital replicas.

Dupler stated that the goal is to update this law for the digital age, with Tennessee being an ideal starting point due to its strong right of publicity law, which was used by the Elvis Presley estate to protect his legacy and name.

"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 closely with the governor's office and stakeholders in the music community to shape the legislation and secure the governor's support. He expressed optimism 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."

Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, it has proven to be a unifying factor within the music industry. 

Dupler pointed out that the music community, due to its diversity, often finds it challenging to reach a consensus. “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 cited two recent examples: the Music Modernization Act passed in 2018, which updated music licensing laws for the first time in over 20 years, and also the Save our Stages Act in 2020, which was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted 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 uniting, but regulators across the political spectrum are also showing bipartisan support for the legislation. Dupler stated that it's rare to see such 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 immune to the threat of deepfakes. In January, deepfake scammers created a replica of U.S. President Joe Biden's voice, which they used in scam robocalls to discourage voters from participating in a local election.

The implications of this issue go beyond the music industry. It affects every citizen who abides by the law. If not addressed, it could lead to a future where technology can mimic our voices and likenesses in ways that infringe on our rights as individuals.

If such legislation is not addressed with the seriousness it deserves, or worse, not implemented at all, the implications could extend far beyond affecting a single artist. The ELVIS Act is not just designed to protect creatives and public figures, but it aims to safeguard the rights of every citizen who abides by the 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 explained.

He highlighted the case of artist Lainey Wilson, who testified before members of Congress that her likeness was used to sell weight loss gummies she had nothing to do with.

"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."

However, Dupler emphasized that the Recording Academy believes "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 need to set up guardrails really quickly before it moves beyond a point where we can put those protections around it," he added.

A similar sentiment was echoed by the CEO of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr., in a 2023 interview with Cointelegraph. Mason Jr. stated that while the right regulations are needed, AI has the potential to be a "creative amplifier."

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