Court Rules AI Artworks Uncopyrightable, Sparking Copyright Debate
In a groundbreaking ruling, a U.S. court in Washington, D.C. has declared that artworks created solely by artificial intelligence (AI) without any human input cannot be copyrighted under U.S. law. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell affirmed the Copyright Office’s rejection of an application filed by computer scientist Stephen Thaler on behalf of his AI system, known as DABUS.
This decision follows a string of losses for Thaler on his bids for U.S. patents covering inventions supposedly created by DABUS. Thaler has also faced limited success in other countries where he applied for DABUS-generated patents, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.
Reacting to the court ruling, Thaler’s attorney, Ryan Abbott, expressed strong disagreement with the decision and announced plans to appeal. However, the Copyright Office has issued a statement affirming the court’s ruling, believing it to be the correct outcome.
This case touches on the emerging field of generative AI, raising new intellectual property concerns. Notably, the Copyright Office has also turned down an artist’s request for copyrights on images generated by the AI system Midjourney, despite the artist’s argument that the system played a role in their creative process.
The use of copyrighted works to train generative AI without permission has also resulted in several ongoing lawsuits. As artists increasingly incorporate AI into their creative toolbox, the intersection of AI and copyright law poses challenging questions, as noted by Judge Howell.
In 2018, Thaler applied for a copyright covering a visual artwork titled A Recent Entrance to Paradise, attributed to his AI system. However, the Copyright Office rejected the application, stating that creative works must have human authors to be eligible for copyright protection.
Thaler contested this decision in federal court, arguing that human authorship is not a concrete legal requirement and allowing AI copyrights aligns with the purpose of copyright, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, to promote the progress of science and useful arts.
Nevertheless, Judge Howell sided with the Copyright Office, emphasizing that human authorship is a fundamental requirement of copyright based on centuries of settled understanding.
This ruling sets an important precedent in the debate around AI-generated artworks and their copyright status. While some argue that AI systems can exhibit creativity and should be eligible for copyrights, others maintain that human authorship is an essential criterion for copyright protection.
The ramifications of this ruling extend beyond the realm of visual art. AI-generated content in various industries, such as music, literature, and film, will likely face similar disputes and legal challenges.
As the field of AI continues to evolve rapidly, the intersection between technology and copyright law will remain a focal point for legal experts, policymakers, and artists alike. It will be crucial to strike a balance that encourages innovation while also respecting the principles underlying copyright protection.
Only time will tell how copyright laws adapt to the artistic capabilities of AI. Until then, debates and discussions surrounding AI-generated artworks will continue to shape the future of copyright in an increasingly digitized world.