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Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Laws – Part I

This month, our plan is to shift our focus on copyright laws, which at this time, is at a juncture of its own. Artificial intelligence is quickly sweeping across many areas of life.  Google, for example, has just started funding a program that will write local news articles. Perhaps more stirringly, depending on who you are, a group of Dutch museums and researchers unveiled The Next Rembrandt, a portrait created by a computer that had analyzed thousands of the artist’s works.  Google has its hand in the realm of art as well and is working on “Deep Mind” which is a subsidiary-developed software that can generate music by listening to recordings.

For many years computers have been able to generate crude works of art, as though they were tools like many others.  But today, artificial intelligence has reached new technological heights.  It is capable of learning on its own.  Autonomous systems may program themselves based on information they perceive, without the need of being programmed by human beings.  They can evolve and make independent decisions.  With regards to art, machines have not quite achieved the ability to “learn” something so subjective, but the neural networks softwares can generate highly-refined works. You may research Recurrent Neural Networks for more information.

One of the traditional requirements for copyright protection is that a work be original. One of the criteria used to determine whether a work is original is whether it was created by a human being. In fact, Europe and the United States of America have their rationale for this rule. In Europe, where copyright law is based more on a moral theory, centering on the rights of authors and the work, and even parts of their person they put into a piece.  In the United States of America, copyright law is based more on a utilitarian theory – i.e., society and government want to incentivize people to put in the labor and create valuable things with the knowledge that they will be rewarded with the fruits of their efforts, and others won’t be able to steal or unjustly piggyback off the work.

Now with the newest technology, however, computers have exceeded the scope of a mere tool. Although, it is arguable they do not possess the essential human trait that makes a work “art,” but the fact they can make some of the decisions involved in the creative process themselves, without input from a human being, is a novel concept that will have to be reconsidered by the court. It might seem a bit esoteric as a question that is fit for a liberal arts college course, but not necessarily with stark, material consequences. In any event, such legal decisions will have far-reaching implications in commerce.  The aforementioned uses of artificial intelligence (e.g., music, journalism, gaming) might circumvent the current conception of copyright protections. This would mean they could freely be used and recycled by anyone for any reason.  From a utilitarian perspective, the negative impact on human authors is identical in that scenario to the negative impact of hijacking the author’s works. For example, an author, musician, or journalist could invest significant funds in their work only to have it copied by a computer and reused to the author’s economic detriment.  As such, the courts will have to apply old theories in new ways.

The Copyright Office has stated that it will exclude works “produced by machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.”  So, there seems to be more than one way for copyright laws to deal with works in which human interaction is either minimal or absent. First, copyright laws can deny protection for works that have been generated by a computer. Second, copyright laws can assign authorship of the works to the program’s creator.

At our law firm, we help clients navigate through the legal obstacles.  Please do not hesitate to contact our artificial intelligence attorneys for any questions.