Artists’ voices to be protected from AI in Tenn. bill

Gov. Bill Lee (R) and legislative leaders announced the proposal at a recording studio in Nashville.
The Nashville, Tenn., skyline is shown July 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) is proposing first-of-its-kind legislation to protect musicians and songwriters from having their voices appropriated by artificial intelligence.

Lee announced the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act — also known as the ELVIS Act — at an event at RCA Studio A in Nashville on Wednesday. Lee was joined by legislative leaders and luminaries of the music and recording industry.

The ELVIS Act is the latest in a wide range of AI-related bills being introduced in statehouses, signaling growing interest and apprehension on the part of governors and state legislators about the rapidly advancing technology.

“Artificial intelligence, as helpful and beneficial as it can be when used appropriately, is something that can frankly rob and destroy an artist’s career if it’s used inappropriately,” Lee said.

Details of the bill are still being finalized, but Lee said the legislation adds “voices” to current Tennessee law that protects name, image and likeness and was inspired by the “robbing” of rock icon Elvis Presley’s identity. The goal is to pass it this year to “ensure that no one can steal the voices of Tennessee artists.”

He predicted the AI legislation would become a model for the nation.

“It’s a fun piece of legislation for a very serious issue that needs to be addressed,” Lee said.

The music industry is a major economic driver in Tennessee. Memphis’s Beale Street is known as the Home of the Blues, and Nashville, as the home of country music, is often referred to as Music City or the Songwriting Capital of the World.

“We stand here in Music City. No robot, no AI creation, no program can come up with a new tune, a new thought, a new story … that resonates in my soul,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R) said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R) predicted the legislation would easily pass this year. Both Johnson and Lamberth signaled they intend to personally sponsor the bill in their respective chambers.

Several members of the music industry attended the event, including singer Michael W. Smith, and endorsed the legislation, saying it is needed to protect their work as generative AI quickly becomes mainstream. Online AI voice generators already make it easy to replicate artists’ voices and have been used to create new songs in the style of famous singers.

In a related development, recent fake internet ads touting Le Creuset cookware have featured the voice and likeness of pop star phenom Taylor Swift.

“When a machine is able to take … someone’s voice and use it without permission, let’s just call it what it is: It’s wrong, it’s theft,” said Jamie Moore, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer.

The push to pass AI legislation in Tennessee to protect artists comes amid growing concern about the technology’s impact on intellectual property and copyright protections. Several high-profile authors and the New York Times are suing OpenAI for allegedly training its chatbot using their materials.

Concern about AI is also manifesting in Hollywood. In September, California Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D) introduced legislation to protect actors from having their likenesses cloned by AI.

“There’s an increased concern that technology will be used to supplant their services,” Kalra told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s no doubt that everyone has the right to control their own image and likeness as well as their voice.”

Kalra’s bill seeks to protect actors from being replaced by AI or having their voice or likeness used to train AI systems.

SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, negotiated AI protections into a new contract that helped lead to the November conclusion of a months-long actors’ strike.

But some critics said the protections did not go far enough. SAG-AFTRA is facing criticism for signing a voice-licensing deal with an AI company for video games.