Urgent action is needed to protect the United Kingdom’s longstanding success as one of the world’s biggest exporters of music, warns a new report from umbrella trade organization UK Music.
In particular, robust copyright laws must be put in place to ensure that creators and rights holders are shielded from the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI), says the trade body’s “Manifesto for Music,” published Tuesday (Sept. 12), which calls for increased government support to grow the sector.
In 2021, U.K. music exports totaled £2.5 billion ($3.1 billion) — up 10% on the previous year, but still lower than 2019’s pre-pandemic figures — according to data from UK Music. Those export totals are made up of record sales, publishing revenue, overseas touring by British acts and tourism spending by international tourists attending live shows in the United Kingdom.
When it comes to recorded music, hit albums by Harry Styles, Glass Animals and Ed Sheeran helped British music exports climb to a record high of £709 million ($910 million) last year, maintaining the country’s long-held position as the second largest exporter of music globally after the United States, according to labels trade body BPI.
Overall, the United Kingdom is the world’s third biggest recorded music market, as per IFPI rankings, behind the United States and Japan.
However, the growth of streaming in emerging territories such as Latin America, the Middle East and South Korea has eaten into the United Kingdom’s share of the global music market, which has fallen from a peak of 17% in 2015 to 12% in 2022. To arrest that decline, UK Music has published a five-point plan to boost exports, protect venues and studios, and promote diversity.
Among the trade group’s recommendations is the enforcement of strong copyright protections against generative AI systems, including clear labeling and a requirement for AI developers to keep and disclose records of any music works used for training purposes.
UK Music is additionally asking policymakers to introduce specific personality and image rights into the British legal framework — and ensure that AI-generated music is clearly distinguishable from human-created works.
Last month, a U.K. Parliament committee issued its own report on regulating the use of AI technology in the music and creative industries. One of the committee’s key recommendations was for the British government to commit to abandoning plans for a proposed (and since shelved) new text and data mining (TDM) exception that would allow AI companies to freely use copyright-protected works for commercial purposes.
“It’s critical that we ensure AI enables and supports human artistry and creativity, and does not damage it,” said UK Music interim chief executive Tom Kiehl, echoing the committee’s request to rule out any new TDM exceptions.
“Strong copyright and intellectual property protections must be at the center of any approach when it comes to AI,” said Kiehl.
Other recommendations in UK Music’s manifesto include the introduction of a new tax credit — similar to what’s in place in other European markets and some U.S. states — encouraging new music production in the country.
The trade group, which recently saw chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin exit the London-based organization to work for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is also calling for increased investment in music education and for the government to secure a post-Brexit cultural touring agreement with the European Union that would reduce costs for U.K. acts touring Europe.
“Without action, the U.K. risks being overtaken by countries who are more proactive and ambitious in promoting their music sectors,” said Kiehl.
The United Kingdom’s moves to police the rapidly evolving AI sector come as other countries and jurisdictions, including the United States, China and the European Union, explore their own paths toward regulating the nascent technology.