Will data mining robots kill off our artists?


If you were to read through a large amount of material very carefully, you might be able to pull out patterns or connections in that material that other people have not seen before. When a computer does that, it's called "data mining". It's a useful technique that can lead to new insights or scientific breakthroughs.

Because of its undoubted value, there's a specific provision in our copyright law which allows text and data analysis of copyright works for non-commercial research. That defence to copyright infringement has been in place since 2014.

Since that time, data mining techniques have become very much more sophisticated. They are at the heart of many of the headline grabbing artificial intelligence (AI) systems that have emerged over the last year or so. We have seen AI systems creating complex images in response to text prompts, writing music and even writing legal advice letters (clearly the highest form of artistic expression!)

Not wanting to stifle innovation in AI, the UK Government announced last year that they intended to permit data mining for any purpose, commercial or otherwise. However, in doing so, they failed to consider the potential impact on the creative sector.

Creative industries have raised concerns about how data mining is used by AI systems to take their work, change it and reproduce it without the permission of the rightsowner. That concern has already led to litigation, such as the recent class action in California alleging copyright infringement by the AI image generator "Stable Diffusion".  

Given this tension, the UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation confirmed in a Westminster debate in early February that the plans to change the rules on data mining will be put on ice. The Minister said that the Government will "consult widely" before bringing forward any changes in this area. The UK's creative industries will welcome this development, but reform is still on the cards and this is very unlikely to be the last word on the subject. We will be mining the news for further developments. So will artists, designers, software developers, and the AI robots that will one day replace us all.

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the Minister has committed, as far as he is able, to withdrawing the current proposals, and that he will consult widely with all parts of our creative industry before putting forward any further proposals. I am sure everyone in this room looks forward to hearing what those are.
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