Judge Rules AI Art Can’t Be Copyrighted

By: Nick Gambino

A federal judge has put a sock in the debate over whether AI art has any legal legs to stand on. Beryl Howell, a U.S. District Judge, ruled that AI-generated artwork can’t be copyrighted under current U.S. copyright law.

The ruling was issued as a response to a lawsuit brought by AI guy Stephen Thaler. He filed the suit against the U.S. Copyright Office after they denied his copyright filing for a piece of art generated by his Creativity Machine.

“In the absence of any human involvement in the creation of the work, the clear and straightforward answer is the one given by the Registrar: No,” Howell’s 15-page ruling states.

Thaler listed the AI bot as the author and, as the owner of the machine, he requested the copyright be transferred to him.

Common sense and current U.S. Copyright law dictate that a machine cannot author anything. Titles like “author” or “creator” suggest that they are alive and human. To list oneself as the owner of the machine immediately deads the argument as to whether the “author” is alive, but it also admits the owner did not himself create anything.

The art piece in question is a computer-generated image titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise.” Now, I’m no art critic or connoisseur, but if I had to choose words to describe the piece I’d use “reductive” and “basic.” The quality of the art, of course, is not the basis for whether or not it’s eligible for copyright protection.

If the federal judge had sided with Thaler there would be assumedly no limit to how many AI-generated images would make their way to the Copyright Office for approval. These machines can produce products at a mad rate and require little to no effort on the owner’s part.

A favorable ruling may have also had an impact on Hollywood’s use of AI to make movies, a point of contention in the ongoing labor strikes. The WGA is currently in their fourth month on strike and SAG-AFTRA in their second because the AMPTP has refused to negotiate in good faith.

Howell did state that we are fast coming upon a new state of affairs in copyright law owing to rapidly advancing AI technology and overlap created by humans using it as a tool. This poses a challenge as to how much human input is necessary to issue a copyright.

All of these rules and laws and even civilization itself is an arbitrary constructed by us to fill the void of “nothing much to do.” We create these games and systems to give us something to do. If we just hand over an entire field of endeavor like art to the machines, what’s the point? I think the spirit of living gets lost in the manic drive to create intelligent technology.

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