Tennessee outlaws AI to protect its country music and more.

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The floor in front of the stage at Robert’s Western World, a beloved Lower Broadway honky-tonk in Nashville, was packed Thursday afternoon.

But even with country music superstar Luke Bryan and a host of other musicians, the center of attention was Gov. Bill Lee and his Elvis act.

And Mr. Lee did not disappoint, signing into law the Insuring Likeness, Voice and Image Security Act, the first bill in the country to protect musicians from artificial intelligence copying a performer’s “voice” without permission. Penalties should be added. .

“There are certainly many things that are positive about AI,” Mr Lee told the crowd. But, he added, “when bad actors get into the hands, it can destroy the industry.”

The use of AI technology — and its rapid improvement in simulating public figures — has led several legislatures to tighten regulations on AI, particularly when it comes to election ads. The White House enacted a sweeping executive order late last year to push for more guardrails as Congress grapples with federal regulations.

But because it’s Tennessee, it’s surprisingly given the spotlight, given the focus on musicians from Nashville, Memphis and beyond. Mr. Lee’s office said the music industry generates billions of dollars for the state and supports more than 61,000 jobs and more than 4,500 venues.

Several leading musicians, recording industry groups and artists’ coalitions rallied around the bill this year, warning of the dire consequences of AI.

“I’ve just gotten to where I hear things in my voice, on my phone, and I can’t tell it’s not me,” Mr. Bryan said Thursday. That it will stop it, slow it down.”

Chris Johnson, a country singer-songwriter who recounted the time he spent working on Lower Broadway, the area where many of the city’s honky-tonks are concentrated, told lawmakers and supporters that “we you guys Grateful for the protection of, and you. The protection of women, our community, our artist community.”

Tennessee first intervened with a 1984 law to protect an artist’s name, likeness, and likeness, which came after Presley was fighting in state court to control what the music legend had done. How the name and likeness can be used commercially after his death. The version signed into law Thursday adds to that measure and will take effect July 1.

The new law was passed unanimously by the Legislature, a remarkable feat for an unusual institution that has spent weeks fighting — at one point, almost literally — over minor quibbles and policy changes.

The decision to sign the bill at the honky-tonk was a first for many in attendance, and it was an unusual sight for Mr. Lee, a more reserved public figure whose tight security detail kept the few tourists outside the venue. Shocked.

Inside, fried bologna sandwiches — the cornerstone of Robert’s $6 recession specials — sizzled on the stove as Mr. Lee spoke. Republicans and Democrats alike sported “ELVIS Act” pins and applauded as Mr. Lee and top Republicans received a framed platinum record acknowledging the Act’s signing.

State Senator Jack Johnson, the majority leader, recalled celebrating his bachelor party at Robert’s, while Mr. Lee described his fondness for hidden date nights with his wife to listen to some music. And state Rep. Justin Jones, the Republican supermajority’s biggest Democratic foe, later posted photos of the event on Instagram with the note that it’s nice to have a bill that “isn’t complete trash.” Is.

However, the legislation’s broad definitions have given some advocates pause about whether it could inadvertently limit certain performances, including when an actor is impersonating a well-known artist. The law also makes a person liable to civil action if an audio recording or likeness of a person is knowingly published without permission.

Voice, under the statute, is defined as a sound in a recording or other medium that is “readily identifiable and attributable to a particular individual,” whether the recording is the person’s voice or an imitation.

These concerns led to some changes in the bill to create an exemption for such audiovisual representations as long as they “do not give the false impression that the work is an authentic recording.”

And given the broad definition of sound, one legal expert wondered, what would that mean for tribute bands, or men impersonating Elvis?

“That’s not what the bill is about,” said Joseph Fishman, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, “but when a law is drafted in a way that allows people to riot with it, that riot follows,” said Joseph Fishman, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

But Mr. Fishman emphasized that even if the measure needs further tailoring in the coming years, it is “a well-intentioned bill that works very well.”

Ben Cesario Cooperation reporting.

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