Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Laws

A question for you to consider: Imagine a world where music is created by a random set of numbers. Who owns the music? Is it the programmer? Is it the user who gave specifications for the music? It’s certainly an odd question to ask, and unsurprisingly, one without a clear answer. The question has been mostly unlitigated, although programs such as the Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) made by DeepMind can produce music by listening to it.  For example, some programs can restore or create mimics of Rembrandt. One might wonder: With the increasing role of technology, what are the limits to copyright laws? Who is a creator, and hasn’t this issue already been settled in courts?

Previous Litigation

To determine the possibility of authorship to AI, it’s important to simplify things. Technology is a little complex. What about monkeys, animals, or something that occurs naturally?

In the only other prominent case to determine the authorship of a copyrighted work where the author was not technically” human, it involved a photographer, a macaque, and PETA. The photographer had given a camera to a troupe of macaques, befriending them, and attempting to orchestrate a situation where the monkey would take a “selfie.” This prompted a prolonged legal saga moving through the Ninth Circuit before finally settling.

During litigation, the United States Copyright Office stated that only humans could have authorship for copyright – i.e., anything created without human intervention would not qualify. As such, the courts (and the Copyright Office) deemed that the monkey could not own the copyright.  Although, the ultimate question of ownership was unanswered. This left the question of who prompted the photograph. Was it the human or the monkey? Even the settlement requested that the Ninth Circuit throw out the lower court’s ruling that a monkey couldn’t own the copyright.

What Does It Mean?

Naturally, the translation from monkey to machine may be a bit abstract. However, the logic would still apply. Under the current laws, animals are primarily considered property, or something that lives in nature. Technology would similarly be considered property and some items (e.g., Software Programs, Artificial Intelligence) may be copyright protected pursuant to the applicable laws (e.g., Copyright Act). From there, the technology’s work may be deemed as derivative works of the program’s copyright, or by the inputs of the user, depending on the limits of technology. Yet, as AI continues to grow in complexity, there’s a philosophical question of what rights the owners may have, if any.

One country has already publicly recognized some rights to an AI as a citizen, and AI remains a continued concern for futurist thinkers. Ultimately, it could go either way depending on the advances and any acknowledged rights of non-human authors. Depending on the amount of human intervention that may change the analysis of authorship as the line between the hand and brush in an artistic work is blurred.

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