Independent musicians will have more power to negotiate with artificial intelligence developers over “fairer rates and terms for the use of their music” if a newly introduced version of the Protect Working Musicians Act passes the U.S. House, according to Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.). 

“AI threatens the creator — finding the person or entity that has co-opted your work and turned it into something else and then going after them is so onerous,” Ross, who sponsored the revised act and sits on the House Judiciary Committee, says in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “That’s one of the reasons for this bill — to allow people to do this collaboratively. We need to do this sooner than later. We’re seeing this threat every single day.”

The Protect Working Musicians Act, which Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced in October 2021 a few months before he left Congress, would allow indie artists to collectively bargain for royalty rates with streaming giants such as Spotify and Apple Music. As it stands, the major labels that own most worldwide master recordings have enormous negotiating power to set rates; the act would “give the smaller independent more of a voice,” says Jen Jacobsen, executive director of the Artist Rights Alliance, which worked with Ross on revising the bill.

Ross picked up the bill when Deutch announced he would not return to the House, then held hearings with indie artists in her district, which includes Raleigh. Since then, Ross says, “The AI issue has become even more important.” The revised act would allow artists to behave like plaintiffs in a class-action suit, she adds, “fighting for their rights” with a central attorney.

“Our work is being scraped and ingested and exploited without us even knowing,” Jacobsen says. “Adding the AI platforms seemed like a relevant and important thing to do.”

Writers and artists have warned for months that AI could transform their ideas into new works with no way to get paid for the usage. In April, “Heart On My Sleeve,” an AI-created song that mimics the voices of Drake and The Weeknd, landed millions of TikTok, Spotify and YouTube plays. At the time, Sting told the BBC: “The building blocks of music belong to us, to human beings. That’s going to be a battle we all have to fight in a couple of years: defending our human capital against AI.”

“Musicians are really worried about this — not just the big-name ones, but small artists, too. Small ones, especially,” Jorgensen says. “The most important thing for this bill is that small, independent artists and record labels need to be recognized and have each others’ backs.”

It’s unclear when the House might vote on the revised bill — or if it would pass. “As you can see in Congress, lots of bills aren’t passing — like the budget!” Ross says. “But this has been a very bipartisan issue in the judiciary committee. It’s the perfect time to bring these issues up.” 



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