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UK Music calls proposed data mining copyright exception “dangerous and damaging”

By | Published on Thursday 7 July 2022

UK Music

UK Music has hit out at a proposed new copyright exception that would cover all and any text and data mining, which the government is planning to introduce as part of reforms to support all things artificial intelligence. The proposed new exception is “dangerous and damaging” and would simply allow AI companies to “launder” music in order to generate new content, reckons the cross-sector music industry trade group.

The proposed new copyright exception follows a review of how intellectual property laws in the UK deal with AI. Among other things the review considered the copyright status of AI-created works, and also whether copyright law should better facilitate the data mining that many AI firms undertake in order to train their technologies.

Whether or not content created by an AI technology should enjoy copyright protection has been a big debate in recent years as such technologies have become more common. In many countries the debate is whether or not copyright law should be revised so to specifically provide protection to such works.

However, UK copyright law already provides protection for what it calls ‘computer-generated’ works. So this review was considering whether or not that protection should be removed, with some people arguing that copyright protection should only apply to human-created works, and/or that copyright law should be written so to protect human creativity from the competition posed by creative AI technologies.

But the conclusion of the government’s review was that, in this domain, UK copyright law should remain unchanged. “For computer-generated works, we plan no changes to the law”, a new report said last week.

“There is no evidence at present that protection for computer-generated works is harmful, and the use of AI is still in its early stages”, it added. “As such, a proper evaluation of the options is not possible, and any changes could have unintended consequences. We will keep the law under review and could amend, replace or remove protection in future if the evidence supports it”.

However, when it comes to data mining, a change to the law is now on the agenda. AI technologies usually learn by crunching lots of data. And while the facts and trends being crunched in that process are not protected by copyright, the files or databases being accessed usually are, meaning that the maker of the AI technology needs to get permission from whoever owns the copyright in that content.

The government’s review noted that “some rightsholders license their works to allow text and data mining, but others do not”. And even where licences are available, “this has financial costs for people using data mining software”.

“The consultation sought views on how to make it easier for people to data mine copyright materials”, last week’s report explained. “It did this with a view to supporting AI and wider innovation in the UK, in line with government priorities on AI, data and innovation”.

One proposal is to introduce a copyright exception, so that people can crunch and scrutinise data contained in copyright protected materials without licence. Such an exception already exists in the UK for non-commercial research, and a wider data mining exception is already available elsewhere in the world.

The government’s report specifically referenced such exceptions in the European Union, Japan and Singapore, and also added that data mining might be covered by the related principle of fair use under US copyright law.

And, it then said, the UK government now thinks such a wider exception for data mining should be available here too. “Introducing an exception which applies to commercial text and data mining will bring benefits to a wide range of stakeholders in the UK”, the report stated. “These include researchers, AI developers, small businesses, cultural heritage institutions, journalists, and engaged citizens”.

That exception will mean that people and companies developing music-based AI technologies will likely be able to mine databases of music content without needing a licence from whoever owns the copyright in that music. Which – the music industry would like everyone to know – is a really bad idea.

Responding to last week’s proposal regarding the data mining exception, UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin has sent a letter to Culture Secretary (for now) Nadine Dorries stating: “We are greatly concerned about plans to allow third parties to use creative works, including music, for data mining purposes, without the need for creators and rightsholders to provide permission”.

“This would significantly undermine the basic principles that the creative industries are based on and runs contrary to the welcome ambition you have set out to protect our world-leading creative industries and build on their success”, the letter goes on. “We seek your urgent intervention to reject the current plan ahead of any decision to take forward legislation’.

“Pre-pandemic the music industry was worth £5.8 billion to the economy, generated exports of £2.9 billion and employed almost 200,000 people”, it continues. “It forms a key part of the UK’s globally celebrated creative industries that are worth in excess of £100 billion to the UK – and a huge part of that success has been down to our robust copyright laws. However, the proposals on data mining risk undermining that framework and causing significant damage to a whole range of sectors”.

“UK Music supports attempts to grow the UK’s AI sector”, the letter stresses, but, it adds: “This cannot be achieved by taking away vital tools that enable the music industry, and other IP reliant sectors, to innovate”.

“These proposals are dangerous to the future prospects of our globally successful sector”, the letter concludes, before asking the culture minister directly: “As someone who has always championed our world leading creative industries and knows from personal experience just how important robust copyright protections are, we ask for your support to help to guarantee this proceeds no further”.

Commenting on the letter, Njoku-Goodwin states: “These proposals would give the green light to music laundering – if the government truly wants the UK creative industries to be world leading, they must urgently rethink these plans”.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.