UK’s Outdated AI Strategy: A Barrier to Progress

The Government's approach to AI and IP threatens the nation's competitive edge in the global market

Key Takeaways

  • The UK Government’s AI strategy puts the country at a disadvantage compared to other nations with more innovation-friendly IP laws.
  • Current UK copyright laws hinder AI development for commercial purposes, while other countries allow the use of third-party materials without additional licensing.
  • Lobbying from the music industry appears to be influencing the Government’s priorities, overshadowing the broader benefits of AI.
  • Urgent changes to the UK’s IP system are needed to foster innovation and ensure a level playing field with international competitors.

I. The Government’s AI Strategy and its Impact on Innovation

The UK Government’s recent White Paper on artificial intelligence (AI) emphasizes the desire to make it easier for tech businesses to grow, innovate, and create jobs in the country. However, the existing approach to intellectual property (IP) threatens to make the UK an unattractive destination for AI development in comparison to other nations with more innovation-friendly IP laws.

II. The Link Between AI and IP

AI relies heavily on copyright and database rights, as machine learning often involves the use of materials protected by IP laws. In the UK, AI techniques that use third-party information without permission are illegal for commercial gain. This contrasts with countries like the US, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, where AI development can use third-party materials without additional licensing, as long as they have legitimate access.

III. UK’s Current AI Landscape and the Effects of EU Law

The UK introduced specific copyright laws in 2014 that allow for machine learning for non-commercial purposes. However, businesses were excluded from this amendment due to EU law, which distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial research. The UK Government’s 2022 announcement of plans to extend the AI exception to businesses seemed like a Brexit benefit, but subsequent climbdowns led to the scrapping of these plans in February 2023.

IV. Consequences of the Government’s U-Turn

The UK’s AI strategy now lacks a commitment to updating the Copyright Act, leaving companies with little legal certainty. As a result, UK-based AI companies must seek permission to use copyright works they already have lawful access to, even if their AI and outputs are non-competing or used in a different market. This puts UK AI exports at a disadvantage, particularly with the EU, which requires access to training data for high-risk products and services under its AI Act.

V. The Influence of the Music Industry

Lobbying from the music industry appears to have swayed the Government’s priorities, focusing on the creative industries instead of the broader economic and social benefits of AI. The needs of startups, researchers, technology companies, universities, the environment, and the NHS seem to have been sidelined.

VI. Rethinking the UK’s AI Strategy

To build a vibrant AI ecosystem, the UK Government must address the current AI IP strategy’s shortcomings. It should support the creation of data trusts for the entertainment industries, allowing companies to access data for training their AI models without stifling innovation. Licensing should only be required for generative art that closely resembles existing works, which copyright law already protects.

VII. Urgent Need for Change

The UK Government must update its copyright law to ensure a level playing field with international competitors. Without changes to the IP system, the country risks delivering a less competitive and innovation-stifling environment for AI development.

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