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Drake and The Weeknd, ‘Nothing Was the Same’ tour
Drake and The Weeknd, whose voices were deepfaked for the 2023 track “Heart On My Sleeve”Photo by Ollie Millington/WireImage

The ELVIS Act takes steps to protect musicians’ voices from AI deepfakes

The ‘first-of-its-kind’ legislation has been signed into law in Tennessee, setting a precedent for AI music regulations across the US

Music, like any creative industry, is in the process of being revolutionised by artificial intelligence – for better or worse, depending who you ask. On the one hand, musicians like Holly Herndon, Grimes, and Sevdaliza are using the technology as a tool for artistic innovation. On the other, streaming services are being filled up with muzak made by NPCs, and musicians are being brought back from the dead to continue churning out profitable performances from beyond the grave. Then, there’s the tricky question of audio deepfakes and vocal clones.

In Tennessee, lawmakers have just taken pioneering steps to safeguard musicians against the latter. Signed into law last week (March 21), the aptly-named ELVIS Act is hailed as “first-of-its-kind” legislation to protect artists’ voices from misuse, building upon the state’s existing protections of a person’s “name, photograph, or likeness” under the Protection of Personal Rights law.

To give it its full title, the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act was signed by Tennessee governor Bill Lee at a Nashville honky-tonk, in the presence of local country stars. Essentially, it enables legal action against those who use an individual’s voice “for purposes of advertising products, merchandise, goods, or services, or for purposes of fundraising, solicitation of donations, purchases of products, merchandise, goods, or services”.

The updated legal guidelines won’t cover “fleeting or incidental” usage of an individual’s voice, or usage that falls under exiting fair use laws, such as “comment, criticism, scholarship, satire, or parody”.

“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,” stated Lee, in a press release detailing the ELVIS Act. “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.”

Country singer Luke Bryan, who was present at the signing, said that the act set “an amazing precedent”. “The leaders of this are showing artists who are moving here, following their dreams, that our state protects what we work so hard for, and I personally want to thank all of our legislators and people who made this bill happen,” he added. “It’s hard to wrap your head around what is going on with AI, but I know the ELVIS Act will help protect our voices.” 

The creation of fake songs by the likes of Nirvana, Amy Winehouse, and many more have provoked concern across the music industry over the last few years. Most notably, in April 2023, a song featuring AI-generated Drake and The Weeknd vocals, titled “Heart On My Sleeve”, garnered millions of streams before it was pulled from streaming services and TikTok by Universal Music Group.

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