The US Copyright Office has zeroed in on who owns AI-generated works in the ChatGPT era.
This week the federal agency published(Opens in a new tab) New guidance on AI and copyright law says it’s open to giving ownership of work created with AI on a “case-by-case” basis.
The Bureau will consider whether the AI contributions are the result of “mechanical reproduction” or rather than the author’s original mental imagination, which [the author] said Shira Perlmutter, director of the Copyright Office.
The copyrighted work will mainly depend on how the person uses AI to create the content. As we’ve seen with ChatGPT and Bing Chat, you can ask them to write a poem in the style of William Shakespeare or a song about Jimmy Buffett’s Chicken Wings. But because generative AI produces “complex written, visual, or musical works” in response, the “traditional elements of authorship” are “determined and implemented by technology,” and therefore the office will not accept this as copyrighted material. The user has no creative control over it. How AI interprets and expresses action, so it doesn’t matter.
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On the other hand, the user may “select or arrange the AI-generated material creatively enough” so that it becomes an original work based on the user’s creativity, and such work can be copyrighted. In the end, Perlmutter said, “what matters is how creatively a person has control over the expressions of the work.”
If all of this sounds vague and confusing, that’s because it is. This is an entirely new area of copyright law that the Copyright Office has had to address due to the sudden popularity of generative AI. There have been other challenging copyright cases in the recent past, such as who authored Selfie taken by a monkey. The agency ultimately ruled not to grant the copyright, saying the copyrighted work must have been made by a human being. But in this case, the distinction between man and animal was clear.
AI chatbots have become so sophisticated that the line between human and machine generated work is becoming increasingly blurred. In theory, the Copyright Office’s policy not to “register works produced by a machine or merely a mechanical process operating randomly or automatically without any creative or human author involvement” is quite clear, despite the garbled sentence. But in practice, using AI to “brainstorm” or “collaborate” on a work of art is a mystery.
“The office continues to monitor new factual and legal developments related to artificial intelligence and copyright,” Perlmutter concluded. She was just referring to the Copyright Office, but it perfectly sums up the collective sentiment around AI: We know this is going to be huge, but we haven’t done it yet, so we’re taking it day by day.