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UK Music welcomes government decision to abandon new data mining copyright exception

By | Published on Thursday 2 February 2023

UK Music

UK Music has welcomed a statement from intellectual property minister George Freeman to the effect that the UK government will not be proceeding with a proposed new copyright exception covering text and data mining by AI companies.

That exception was proposed after the UK’s Intellectual Property Office undertook a consultation on how British copyright law should deal with new AI technologies, and especially those AI tools that create and produce content, usually by processing and scrutinising data relating to existing content.

The proposed new exception was widely criticised by the copyright industries including the music industry. They argued that AI tools mining data related to existing copyright protected works should have to secure licences from the owners of those works.

When it was first proposed, cross-sector trade group UK Music called the proposed exception “dangerous and damaging”, adding that it would allow AI companies to “launder” music in order to generate new content.

Freeman confirmed that the government is not now planning to introduce the new exception into UK copyright law during a debate in Parliament yesterday.

He said that when he returned for a second stint as IP minister in October he and Julia Lopez – the minister overseeing media, data and digital infrastructure – wrote to all their relevant colleagues in government to state that the copyright exception proposals “were not correct”.

They also added in their communication to other ministers that the proposals had received a significant push back “which should have been picked up in the pre-consultation before the proposals were announced”, and that therefore “we are looking to stop them”.

He added that he and Lopez now intend to have “deeper conversations” with those in Parliament with an interest in this area – as well as creators, platforms, publishers, broadcasters and digital intermediaries – in order to “ensure that we do not rush precipitately into a knee-jerk move that is wrong”.

Welcoming Freeman’s statement, UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin says: “UK Music warmly welcomes the minister’s decision to scrap plans for a catastrophic blanket copyright exception. The whole music industry has been united in its opposition to these proposals, which would have paved the way for music laundering and opened up our brilliant creators and rightsholders to gross exploitation”.

“We are delighted to see the back of a policy that risked irreparable damage to the global success story that is the UK music industry”, he adds. “We now look forward to working with the government to ensure any future plans are evidence-based and allow artificial intelligence and our world-leading creative industries to grow in tandem”.

Debates continue around the world about what copyright law does and should say about creative AI, both in terms of whether works created by AI technologies should enjoy copyright protection, and what licences are required – or not – when an AI tool mines data linked to existing copyright protected works.

A lawsuit recently filed in the UK courts by Getty Images could prove to be an interesting test case regarding what UK law currently says in this domain.

It is suing Stability AI – creators of the popular prompt-based text-to-image generative AI tool Stable Diffusion – which, it claims, “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright to benefit Stability AI’s commercial interests and to the detriment of the content creators”.