In her ruling, DC District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell says that human beings are an “essential part of a valid copyright claim.” This is the latest in a series of court cases seeking to determine if original material generated by AI can be copyrighted under existing law.
The ruling came out last Friday, and the judge was quite clear AI content couldn’t be copyrighted. This case involved a lawsuit against the US Copyright Office after it refused to copyright a work by a person named Stephen Thaler.
In it, Thaler created an AI-generated image with the Creativity Machine algorithm he’d created and sought to copyright the work. So how did Mr. Thaler look to get his AI-generated image copyrighted? Well, according to the case, the image was filed in the copyright process “as a work for hire to the owner of the Creativity Machine.” This would have listed the author as the creator of the work, and Thaler as the artwork’s owner.
But the US Copyright Office flatly rejected the claim multiple times, so Thaler filed suit after the office sent its final rejection last year. With the suit, Thaler claimed that denial of his AI-generated work was “arbitrary, capricious … and not in accordance with the law.”
According to last week’s ruling, the judge didn’t’ share Thaler’s view. In the decision, Judge Howell wrote that copyright has yet to be granted with the “absent of any guiding human hand.” She went on to add that “human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright.”
To come to her decision, Judge Howell pointed to a case that saw a woman compile a book from notebooks that she’d filled with “words she believed were dictated to her” by some kind of supernatural “voice.” And that the work itself was worthy of copyright.
Though, the decision wasn’t all doom for creators who use AI to create content. In the ruling, the judge also acknowledged that due to AI, humanity was “approaching new frontiers in copyright,” as more and more artists utilize the technology to create original work.
In the decision, she also went on to write that this would, in the short term, create “challenging questions regarding how much human input is necessary” to copyright AI-created art. She noted that AI models are often trained on pre-existing work which could complicate matters legally.
According to Bloomberg Law, Stephen Thaler will seek to appeal his case, and his attorney, Ryan Abbot of Brown Neri Smith & Khan LLP, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s interpretation of the Copyright Act.”
With this case and many others, it’s clear that the law is still quite behind in terms of how to react to AI. Earlier this year, a U.S. House Rep out of Massachusetts used ChatGPT to generate a speech to bring attention to the need for Congress to get head-on AI regulation.
The Biden Administration seems to be working on this issue as well in two ways. Directing federal agencies to determine how they could use existing laws to create rules surrounding AI. They also released a road map for AI governance as well.