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Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Laws – Part II

We are continuing our look at the impact of artificial intelligence on copyright laws. In general, copyright’s underlying theory—to protect property rights as defined by the labor a person puts into an object, and to incentivize economic progress by entitling people to the fruits of their labor—will come to bear in face of this new technology.  It will happen in ways equally as novel as the technology at issue.

Although, copyright protection usually requires that a work be original and created by a human being, however, the fruits of artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly original.  It might prove unfair in some circumstances not to afford protection to a highly-complex and refined work of literature, music, or journalism simply because its creator is not human. It could likewise disincentivize the use of such innovation.  On the other hand, the argument is made that the market will disincentivize a human being from going through the laborious task of copying something that was previously made by a computer more efficiently.  The law really comes to a finer point when the issue is one of computer-generated copying of computer-generated works.  This thing intuitively feels unethical, but it is tricky to get the legal outcome that feels right under the current copyright regime. Another argument to be made in favor of not affording protection to works not created by human beings is that employing artificial intelligence to tackle time-consuming endeavors could really help the economy.

Another legal option besides denying copyright protection is to simply attribute authorship to the creator of the program that made the work being copied.  This manner of addressing the issue is practiced in places like Hong Kong, India, Ireland, New Zealand, and United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a slightly different definition of authorship from that of places whose jurisprudence indicate that a human being is required: “In the case of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangement necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.”  This seems to allow for computer programmers to be characterized as authors, where in other countries, they may not be.

The legal question then becomes who is such a person that makes the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work? Does copyright protect the creator of the generating program, or does it only protect the user of that program who created the specific work?  Does the penmaker get copyright benefits for the author’s work?  The answer seems clear in traditional mediums and even in less advanced digital mediums. For example, Microsoft Word does not get credit for everything created with its program. Yet, in the realm of artificial intelligence, the same answer is more ambiguous.  It is arguable that artificial intelligence programmers invest more labor and contribute more intellectual benefit. In fact, they do it more directly to the finished work created by the program.  Conversely, the user of an artificial intelligence program who intends to create certain work necessarily puts in much less of his own labor when the program can learn and run by itself.  That user might simply press a button. For example, a program that analyzed a huge array of language was able to produce Wikipedia articles with the same style and measure as Shakespeare.

Until the courts rule clearly or some deft legislation is passed, the web of common law responses will likely become increasingly more convoluted.  This has happened repeatedly in copyright law, but has been simple enough to remedy when the need presents itself.

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.