Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that art created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be copyrighted under US law. The decision came after plaintiff Stephen Thaler’s application for copyright was rejected by the US Copyright Office, which stated that the work lacked human authorship. Thaler challenged the decision in court but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Thaler had sought a copyright for an image titled A Recent Entrance to Paradise, which was generated by a computer program he developed. In his application, he identified the author as the Creativity Machine, the name of his software. However, the Copyright Office denied the application, stating that copyright law only extends to works created by human beings.
Thaler made a second attempt to register the work, arguing that AI should be recognized as an author if it meets the authorship criteria, with copyright ownership vesting in the AI’s owner. However, the Copyright Office once again refused to register the work, stating that copyright law is limited to works of human creation.
Judge Howell’s ruling emphasized that copyright law in the United States protects only works of human creation. While Thaler acknowledged that copyright law has adapted to cover works created with new technologies, such as AI, the judge highlighted that human creativity remains the core element that makes a work copyrightable.
The ruling raises significant questions about the role of AI in the creation and ownership of artistic works. Thaler’s arguments regarding legal theories under which a copyright in the computer’s work could transfer to him were dismissed by Judge Howell, who maintained that these arguments did not address the central issue of whether a copyright can be granted for a work generated without human involvement.
This decision aligns with a ruling from last year in which Thaler lost a separate case concerning AI software as the registered inventor on a patent. The US Court of Appeals ruled that inventors must be human under US patent law.
Ultimately, this ruling emphasizes the importance of human authorship in copyright protection. While AI has undoubtedly made significant advancements in generating creative works, the law currently recognizes human creativity as the essential component of copyright eligibility. As the field of AI continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how legal frameworks will adapt to address the complexities and implications of AI-generated art.