Tennessee Adopts ELVIS Act, Protecting Artists’ Voices From AI Impersonation

Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed the ELVIS Act into law Thursday (Mar. 21), legislation designed to further protect the state’s artists from artificial intelligence deep fakes. The bill, more formally named the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act of 2024, replaces the state’s old right of publicity law, which only included explicit protections for one’s “name, photograph, or likeness,” expanding protections to include voice- and AI-specific concerns for the first time.

Gov. Lee signed the bill into law from a local honky tonk, surrounded by superstar supporters like Luke Bryan and Chris Janson. Lee joked that it was “the coolest bill signing ever.”

The ELVIS Act was introduced by Gov. Lee in January along with State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-27) and House Majority Leader William Lambert (R-44), and it has since garnered strong support from the state’s artistic class. Talents like Lindsay Ell, Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant, Matt Maher and Evanescence‘s David Hodges have been vocal in their support for the bill.

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It also gained support from the recorded music industry and the Human Artistry Campaign, a global initiative of entertainment organizations that pushes for a responsible approach to AI. The initiative has buy-in from more than 180 organizations worldwide, including the RIAA, NMPA, BMI, ASCAP, Recording Academy and American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).

Right of publicity protections vary state-to-state in the United States, leading to a patchwork of laws that make enforcing one’s ownership over one’s name, likeness and voice more complicated. There is an even greater variation among right of publicity laws postmortem. As AI impersonation concerns have grown more prevalent over the last year, there has been a greater push by the music business to gain a federal right of publicity.

The ELVIS Act replaces the Personal Rights Protection Act of 1984, which was passed, in part, to extend Elvis Presley‘s publicity rights after he passed away. (At the time, Tennessee did not recognize a postmortem right of publicity). Along with explicitly including a person’s voice as a protected right for the first time, the ELVIS Act also broadens which uses of one’s name, image, photograph and voice are barred.

Previously, the Personal Rights Protection Act only banned uses of a person’s name, photograph and likeness “for purpose of advertising,” which would not include the unauthorized use of AI voices for performance purposes. The ELVIS Act does not limit liability based on context, so it would likely bar any unauthorized use, including in a documentary, song or book, among other mediums.

The federal government is also working on solutions to address publicity rights concerns. Within hours of Gov. Lee’s introduction of the ELVIS Act in Tennessee back in January, a bipartisan group of U.S. House lawmakers revealed the No Artificial Intelligence Fake Replicas And Unauthorized Duplications Act (No AI FRAUD Act), which aims to establish a framework for protecting one’s voice and likeness on a federal level and lays out First Amendment protections. It is said to complement the Senate’s Nurture Originals, Foster Art, and Keep Entertainment Safe Act (NO FAKES Act), a draft bill that was introduced last October.

While most of the music business is aligned on creating a federal right of publicity, David Israelite, president/CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), warned in a speech delivered at an Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP) meeting in February that “while we are 100% supportive of the record labels’ priority to get a federal right of publicity…it does not have a good chance. Within the copyright community, we don’t even agree on [it]. Guess who doesn’t want a federal right of publicity? Film and TV. Guess who’s bigger than the music industry? Film and TV.”

The subject of AI voice cloning has been a controversial topic in the music business since Ghostwriter released the so-called “Fake-Drake” song “Heart On My Sleeve,” which used the AI technology without permission. In some cases, this form of AI can present novel creative opportunities — including its use for pitch records, lyric translations, estate marketing and fan engagement — but it also poses serious threats. If an artist’s voice is cloned by AI without their permission or knowledge, it can confuse, offend, mislead or even scam fans.

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