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Tennessee becomes the first state to protect musicians and other artists against AI

Country music star Luke Bryan gives a fist bump to Gov. Bill before Lee signed a bill Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
Mark Humphrey
Country music star Luke Bryan gives a fist bump to Gov. Bill before Lee signed a bill Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.

Tennessee made history on Thursday, becoming the first U.S. state to sign off on legislation to protect musicians from unauthorized artificial intelligence impersonation.

"Tennessee (sic) is the music capital of the world, & we're leading the nation with historic protections for TN artists & songwriters against emerging AI technology," Gov. Bill Lee announced on social media.

The Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act, or ELVIS Act, is an updated version of the state's old right of publicity law. While the old law protected an artist's name, photograph or likeness, the new legislation includes AI-specific protections.

Once the law takes effect on July 1, people will be prohibited from using AI to mimic an artist's voice without permission.

Lee signed the bill inside Robert's Western World, the famed Nashville honky tonk, where he was gathered with country music superstars Chris Janson and Luke Bryan.

"What an amazing precedent for Tennessee to get in front of this," Bryan told the crowd.

"To know that our state protects us and what we're about and what we worked so hard for is just a testament to how great this state is."

Tennessee has long been known as a musical powerhouse state, from country to blues music. The state has been a launching pad for the careers of some of the country's biggest superstars, including Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, BB King, and Taylor Swift.

The state's music industry supports more than 61,000 jobs and hosts more than 4,500 music venues, according to the governor's office.

"From Beale Street to Broadway, to Bristol and beyond, Tennessee is known for our rich artistic heritage that tells the story of our great state," said Lee in a press release about the bill when it was introduced in January.

"As the technology landscape evolves with artificial intelligence, I thank the General Assembly for its partnership in creating legal protection for our best-in-class artists and songwriters."

Lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the rapid acceleration of AI technology, as it continues to impact multiple industries. In the music industry, songwriters, singers, and producers have expressed concerns about the current lack of protections over things like copyrights and intellectual property.

Last year, music fans responded with disbelief after an anonymous TikTok user used AI to simulate the voices of artists Drake and The Weeknd to create the viral song "Heart on My Sleeve." The artists' label owner Universal Music Group invoked copyright violation to get the song removed from platforms including TikTok, Spotify and YouTube.

While largely viewed as a threat, producers have also been using the technology to make some impressive breakthroughs.

It was AI tools that made it possible for The Beatles to release what they've referred to as their final song, "Now and Then," which was published in November 2023. The artist Grimes has also encouraged the use of AI in song making, going as far to encourage creators to use AI-generated versions of her voice to make new music, offering to split 50% royalties on any successful hits.

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Rebecca Rosman