In a landmark decision, a U.S. federal judge has aligned with the stance of the American government, ruling that art produced by artificial intelligence is not subject to copyright law within the United States, citing the absence of human creativity. Judge Beryl Howell from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia articulated in her judgment, acquired by The Hollywood Reporter, “The stretch of copyright has never reached to shield works crafted by innovative technology functioning without the direction of a human, as the plaintiff has insisted here.” She went on to state that “Human authorship is a foundational necessity for copyright.”
In 2022, computer scientist Dr. Stephen Thaler pursued legal action against the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) when his second application to copyright a piece of art named A Recent Entrance to Paradise was dismissed. The USCO agreed that the Creativity Machine, an AI model Thaler coined, generated the piece. Thaler attempted to copyright the piece himself, labeling it “a work-for-hire for the owner of the Creativity Machine” and argued that the USCO’s stipulation of “human authorship” was contrary to the constitution.
Judge Howell referenced past decisions, such as the renowned case involving a monkey that snapped some selfies, where copyright claims were refuted due to the absence of human creation. The judge penned, “The legal system has consistently refused to acknowledge copyright for creations devoid of human participation.”
Howell also remarked on the increasing impact of generative AI on the artistic world, acknowledging that it will prompt “difficult questions” regarding how much human contribution is necessary for copyright eligibility and the originality of works crafted by systems drawing from copyrighted pieces.
However, in Thaler’s case, Howell asserted that it was relatively uncomplicated since Thaler himself conceded that he did not participate in the creation of A Recent Entrance to Paradise. The ruling was clear, “Without any human contribution in the crafting of the work, the unambiguous and simple response is the one handed down by the [Federal] Register: No,” declared Howell. Thaler intends to challenge the judgment.
This ruling, as reported by Bloomberg, is a first in the U.S. regarding copyright safeguards for AI-forged art, an area the USCO has been grappling with. In March, they offered guidance on the ineligibility of AI-generated images based on text prompts for copyright protection, though there is room for interpretation. “The resolution will hinge on the specifics, chiefly the manner in which the AI tool functions and how it was utilized to forge the final piece,” the USCO explained. “This is inherently an individual examination.”
Furthermore, the agency provided restricted copyright protection for a graphic novel containing AI-produced components. It declared in February that the images created by Midjourney in Kris Kashtanova’s Zarya of the Dawn were not suitable for copyright, but the text and layout were eligible.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about AI-generated art
What was the ruling regarding AI-generated art by Judge Beryl Howell?
Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that AI-generated art is not eligible for copyright protection in the United States, citing the absence of human creativity. Human authorship was deemed a foundational necessity for copyright.
Who sued the U.S. Copyright Office, and why?
Dr. Stephen Thaler sued the U.S. Copyright Office after the agency rejected his second attempt to copyright an artwork titled A Recent Entrance to Paradise, which was created by an AI model named the Creativity Machine. Thaler claimed that the USCO’s “human authorship” requirement was unconstitutional.
Is this the first ruling on AI-generated art copyright in the U.S.?
Yes, according to Bloomberg, this is the first ruling in the U.S. on copyright protections for AI-generated art.
What did the U.S. Copyright Office say about AI-generated images?
In March, the U.S. Copyright Office issued guidance on copyrighting AI-generated images based on text prompts, generally stating that they’re not eligible for copyright protection. The agency mentioned that the answer will depend on specific circumstances, like how the AI tool operates and how it was used to create the final work.
Was there any precedent for this decision regarding non-human creations?
Yes, Judge Howell cited rulings in other cases where copyright protection was denied to artwork lacking human involvement, such as the famous case of a monkey that managed to capture selfies. The legal system has consistently refused to acknowledge copyright for creations devoid of human participation.
Has the agency granted copyright for any works with AI elements?
Yes, the agency has granted limited copyright protection to a graphic novel with AI-generated elements, specifically the text and layout of Kris Kashtanova’s Zarya of the Dawn. The AI-created images were not eligible for copyright.
Is there a chance for this decision to be overturned?
Dr. Stephen Thaler plans to appeal the decision, so there may be further developments in the case.