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Tennessee lawmakers move to regulate AI and deepfakes


Tennessee is the first state in the country to put a law on the books offering protections against generative AI in music. The new law bans the unauthorized use of performers' voices amid worries about how the technology could affect the music industry. Jewly Hight of Nashville Public Radio has more.


MARY BRAGG: (Singing) Please don't be perfect. Please don't be perfect.

JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: That's the sumptuous singing of Mary Bragg, an independent artist based in Nashville. She says she spent years developing the distinct sound of her voice, and she's built a career on it.

BRAGG: I was born a singer, and then I went and trained. I was classically trained my whole upbringing and then in college. And so my voice is, like, the thing that makes me special. The thought of it being threatened is terrifying.

HIGHT: She says that thought became very real to her when a friend sent her a video of scientist Bill Weihl, who had lost his ability to speak to the disease ALS. Through generative AI, he could give a conference presentation and sound like himself.


BILL WEIHL: Despite all the challenges and frustrations I live with, I still have a voice.

HIGHT: The message was important, but Bragg couldn't help but fixate on the new technology involved.

BRAGG: I was both inspired and also pretty freaked out. With this, it feels very out of control very fast. And so, you know, what do we do? How do we control it? Is there any controlling it?

HIGHT: Lots of people started asking those questions last April after what seemed to be a broody new banger from Drake and The Weeknd turned out to be a convincing fake.


HIGHT: (As Drake, singing) Got my heart on my sleeve with a knife in my back. What's with that?

MITCH GLAZIER: I think about 40,000 emails went back and forth that day and a lot of phone calls.

HIGHT: Mitch Glazier leads the Recording Industry Association of America, and he was on the receiving end of record executives' concerns.

GLAZIER: We very quickly knew that we would need to start pursuing very specific laws that addressed artificial intelligence.

HIGHT: The advocacy campaigns began. Federal legislation was introduced, and Tennessee's version passed with bipartisan support. It was heralded as the first law in the nation to prohibit the AI-aided manipulation of performers' voices without their permission. On March 21, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the bill into law during a media event at a honky tonk in downtown Nashville.


BILL LEE: And there are certainly many things that are positive about what AI does. It also - when falling into the hands of bad actors, it can destroy this industry.

HIGHT: Tennessee legislators built on existing statutes, notes Joseph Fishman, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.

JOSEPH FISHMAN: Tennessee, like all other states, has a body of law called publicity rights.

HIGHT: For decades, it's been illegal for businesses to put anyone's name or image to commercial use, say in advertisements selling cars, without their agreement. Fishman says the expanded law protects people's vocal likenesses like statutes in a couple of other states. What is genuinely new is that Tennessee's measure applies to non-commercial use.

FISHMAN: Where you just have somebody putting it into a new song, putting it into a new film, at least to the extent that that doesn't conflict with the First Amendment.

HIGHT: The RIAA's Mitch Glazier thinks Tennessee's new legal protections could be a model for federal efforts.

GLAZIER: It's very difficult to have a patchwork of state laws applicable to a global, borderless system. And so there's an incentive for Congress to look at this.

HIGHT: Singer-songwriter Mary Bragg is just relieved that Tennessee took action quickly.

BRAGG: It feels like our place in this state is valued.

HIGHT: For NPR News, I'm Jewly Hight in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF NELLY SONG, "RIDE WIT ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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