AI-Created Artwork Rejected by US Copyright Office

A federal court in Washington, D.C. has upheld the decision of the US Copyright Office (USCO) to deny registration to an artwork created entirely by an artificial intelligence (AI) system. The case was brought by Dr. Stephen Thaler, who claimed to be the owner of the image titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”, which he said was generated by a sentient machine called The Creativity Machine.

The Creativity Machine and its Controversial Creations

Dr. Thaler is a pioneer in the field of generative AI, which uses neural networks to produce novel and original content without human intervention. He developed The Creativity Machine, which he describes as “a network of neural nets that can imagine things on their own”.

Using this technology, Dr. Thaler has created various works of art, music, literature, and inventions, some of which have won awards and patents. One of his creations is “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”, an abstract image that resembles a colorful landscape with clouds and mountains.

AI-Created Artwork Rejected by US Copyright Office
AI-Created Artwork Rejected by US Copyright Office

Dr. Thaler submitted an application to register this image as a work of visual art with the USCO in 2022, but he disclosed in the application that the image was the result of an AI system. The USCO rejected his application, stating that “human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright”.

The Legal Battle over AI Authorship

Dr. Thaler challenged the USCO’s decision in court, arguing that he should be recognized as the owner of the image because he created and controlled The Creativity Machine, and that the image was a product of his original expression and creativity.

He also claimed that the USCO’s policy on works containing material generated by AI was unconstitutional, arbitrary, and contrary to the public interest. He sought a declaratory judgment that he was entitled to register the image, as well as an injunction to prevent the USCO from denying registration to works created by AI.

The USCO defended its decision, citing the text of the Constitution and the Copyright Act, as well as Supreme Court and appellate decisions that uniformly support a human authorship requirement. The USCO also argued that Dr. Thaler lacked standing to sue because he did not suffer any injury from the denial of registration.

On Friday, Judge Beryl Howell issued an opinion in favor of the USCO, granting its motion for summary judgment and denying Dr. Thaler’s motion. Judge Howell agreed with the USCO that human authorship is a necessary condition for copyright protection, and that Dr. Thaler did not demonstrate any ownership interest in the image.

Judge Howell wrote: “The plaintiff’s claim hinges on his assertion that he owns ‘A Recent Entrance to Paradise’ because he owns The Creativity Machine that generated it… However, ownership of a machine used to create something does not confer ownership over what is created.”

The Implications and Reactions of the Ruling

The ruling is a significant setback for Dr. Thaler and his team, who have been pursuing various cases around the world to challenge intellectual property laws when it comes to AI authorship. They have also filed applications for patents and trademarks for works created by The Creativity Machine.

Dr. Ryan Abbott, a member of Dr. Thaler’s team and a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey, expressed his disagreement with the ruling in a written statement: “The public is the primary beneficiary of copyright law, and the public benefits when systems are in place to promote the generation and dissemination of new works, regardless of how they are created.”

He also indicated that they would appeal the decision: “We disagree with the District Court’s ruling… We believe this case raises important issues about how we treat new technologies that have outpaced our laws.”

On the other hand, the USCO welcomed the ruling and said it was reviewing the decision: “The Copyright Office believes the court reached the correct result. We are reviewing the decision, and we have no further comment at this time.”

The ruling also raises questions about how to deal with the increasing use and impact of AI on various fields and industries, especially in the creative sector. Some experts have suggested that alternative forms of protection or recognition should be considered for works generated by AI, such as moral rights, collective rights, or sui generis rights.

However, others have argued that granting any form of intellectual property rights to AI would undermine the incentives and rewards for human creators, and that AI should be treated as a tool rather than an author.

The debate over AI authorship is likely to continue as technology advances and challenges the existing legal frameworks. The case of Dr. Thaler and The Creativity Machine is one of the first of its kind, but it may not be the last.

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