This blog is an update to “Legal Issues with Using AI to Create Content – Written with Help from AI” by Devin Ricci on April 28, 2023
On August 18th, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion stating that Artificial Intelligence (AI) generated artwork lacks “human authorship,” thus it cannot be the subject of a valid copyright claim. This decision raises many issues regarding copyright ownership that will require further court involvement and/or policy reform.
The primary challenge arising from AI-generated artwork pertains to copyright existence and ownership. Copyright law traditionally assigns authorship to individuals who create original works. However, in the case of AI, determining authorship becomes complex. Some argue that since AI systems are essentially tools programmed by humans, the programmers should retain authorship rights. Others believe that if AI can autonomously create something new without direct human intervention, it should be granted certain rights. This debate challenges the very essence of copyright law, which is built around the concept of human creativity.
The plaintiff, Stephen Thaler, used the “Creativity Machine,” a generative AI technology, to generate a piece of artwork. Thaler was unsuccessful with obtaining a copyright registration for the AI-generated artwork. In the copyright application, Thaler identified “Creativity Machine” as the author. The United States Copyright Office (“USCO”) denied the application because the work “lack[ed] the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” Thereafter, Thaler filed a complaint in the D.C. District Court against the USCO and its director requesting the refusal be set aside and the AI-generated artwork be registered.
Thaler filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that AI-generated work is copyrightable because the Copyright Act provides protection to “original works of authorship.” This argument was premised on Thaler’s assertion that “author” is not explicitly defined in the Copyright Act and that the ordinary meaning of “author” encompasses generative AI. Ultimately, the D.C. District Court disagreed. The Court held the Copyright Act plainly requires human authorship. As explained by the Court, an “author” is “an originator with the capacity for intellectual, creative, or artistic labor,” which is necessarily a human being.
Implications and Considerations
This decision raises a host of questions and demonstrates that a more comprehensive legal framework is required as AI generated content becomes more sophisticated and prevalent. AI has revolutionized various industries, and the realm of creative expression is no exception. AI-generated artwork has gained significant attention in recent years, raising fascinating questions about the intersection of technology, creativity, and intellectual property rights. As AI systems create artwork independently, it becomes imperative to analyze the implications of this emerging trend on copyright, ownership, and the very definition of creativity. The legal framework is continually evolving and there are many issues that content creators, artists, and marketing companies need to be cognizant of as the legal framework develops.
If this ruling is upheld, a work created solely by AI theoretically is not susceptible to copyright protection at all. Because copyright law is preemptive, meaning it exclusively governs the subject matter of claims that fall within the purview of the Copyright Act, this could severely limit the ability to prevent infringement of an AI-generated work. In theory, because the work would not be protectable, there is no property right to infringe and may not be a legal basis to prevent third party use of the material.
It is important to note that this recent decision may not stretch to underlying works created by a human, or to the extent a human could be considered a co-author of AI-generated content. In any event, it does implicate works where AI is fully creating the work with little to no human involvement. For example, if you use a program similar to the Creativity Machine and type into the program: “create a picture of Santa getting run over by a reindeer with cookies flying everywhere and a dog laughing,” the resulting image would not be protectable under this decision. In particular, advertising companies should be aware that AI-generated advertisements may not be subject to copyright protection.
However, there must be some middle ground between complete human authorship and complete AI-generated content. AI might be utilized in developing a work, but if there is enough human involvement it should be fair to say there is human authorship. Perhaps a photographer snaps a photograph and uses an AI editing tool to filter/edit the photo. Is the photographer’s involvement enough to make the edited photo a human-authored work? How much human involvement is required to constitute authorship? Courts will have to wrestle with the intersection of AI’s involvement in creative works to sort out these questions. Otherwise, it will be up to Congress to create a new framework for addressing AI generated or augmented works.
AI-generated artwork represents a groundbreaking fusion of technology and creativity that challenges established norms in the art and legal worlds. The complex questions it raises about copyright, authorship, and the essence of creativity underscore the need for collaborative efforts among legal experts, artists, programmers, and policymakers. Balancing the rights of human creators and the capabilities of AI will shape the future landscape of artistic expression and intellectual property rights.