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Open letter: DCMS roundtable on AI and the creative industries


This is an open letter from the Council Of Music Makers on the announcement that the Department For Culture, Media & Sport has convened a roundtable on AI and the creative industries.

We greatly welcome the acknowledgement from Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer that "creatives rightly have concerns – and proposals – about how their work is used by artificial intelligence now and in the future", as well as her commitment to listen to and consider those concerns and proposals. But to do this, it is important that the voices of music-makers themselves are a key part of the conversation. 

We are hugely concerned that the government is forming a roundtable which only gives one single seat to a representative of all creatives across all media (including film, theatre, literature and music), but has three seats for executives from major record companies. This is profoundly unbalanced and tone-deaf.

It is crucial to understand that when corporate rightsholders make decisions about digital polices and digital business models, they do so without consulting the music-making community. These decisions are made unilaterally in secret and are rarely even communicated to music-makers and their teams.

The last 25 years have also demonstrated that – when making these decisions – corporate rightsholders always prioritise the interests of their shareholders. It is true that sometimes the interests of those shareholders and music-makers are aligned, but sometimes they are diametrically opposed.

With streaming, the corporate rightsholders worked in secret with the streaming services to develop a business model that served the interests of their shareholders. Music-makers had to employ considerable detective skills to figure out how this model worked and then undertake significant lobbying efforts to instigate a discussion about the issues with the model.

This is why the DCMS Select Committee's inquiry into the economics of music streaming – which recognised that the current model needs a "complete reset" – and the subsequent government instigated work on data, transparency and remuneration have been so important. 

It was only under pressure from MPs and ministers that the corporate rightsholders would come to the table to discuss the model and the issues. We have since made some progress, albeit slow, in addressing those issues, and are optimistic that further progress will be made in 2024. 

However, the corporate rightsholders are now making changes to the streaming model, while also developing brand new business models with AI companies. Again, the music-maker community is not being consulted, with decisions being taken unilaterally by record labels and the technology companies. Deals are being done in secret, with decisions only communicated through press releases.  

This is epitomised by proposals such as the so-called 'artist-centric' model for streaming, which has been developed with no consultation of the artist community. The corporate rightsholders are again employing the same approach which necessitated the Select Committee inquiry and subsequent government-led work in order to try to bring some transparency and equity to our sector. The same mistakes must not be replicated against the backdrop of AI.

In July, the Council Of Music Makers asked a series of questions through UK Music about how the corporate rightsholders intended to meet the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities posed by AI. We also asked for a commitment that the explicit consent of artists and songwriters would be sought before their music was used to train a generative AI model. So far those questions have not been answered and that commitment has not been given.

Of course, both corporate rightsholders and music-makers believe that AI companies must respect copyright and other creator rights – on that we are aligned. But corporate rightsholders cannot and do not speak for music-makers, and it cannot be assumed they are making decisions in the interest of music-makers.

At the core of the debate around generative AI is the impact it will have – positive and negative – on human creators. While corporate rightsholders are important business partners for human creators, they cannot speak for or represent them in this debate. 

We urge record labels and the technology companies to actively engage with music-makers on AI. And we call on government to ensure that human creators are at the centre of its valuable work to ensure that the opportunities of AI are achieved in a way that benefits everyone, and especially the people who create the music we all love and which makes a significant contribution to the UK's public purse. 

The Council Of Music Makers
Featured Artists Coalition
The Ivors Academy
Musicians' Union
Music Producers Guild
Music Managers Forum

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