Intellectual Property Law

Who Owns the Right to AI Created Work?

While there is no set legislation that stipulates who can own copyright protections for AI generated work, this does leave plenty of room for that argument to be made, especially if an artist or creator had a heavy hand in the development of algorithms or software that generated the original work.

In many aspects of our society, technology has the power for so much positivity, but in the same token, it can also muddy the waters in terms of how we operate as a whole. When it comes to legislation and our nation’s current laws, technology is often years if not decades behind the laws that rule our day to day lives. In the case of original creative works, artificial intelligence technology, and copyright protections, the very specific concept of AI generated work and who has copyright protection over it is only confusing Americans more. And as copyright laws continue to lag behind our ever changing technology, it’s unclear if and when laws will be amended to meet this growing sector of AI generated work.

What Are Copyright Protections?

In 1968, copyright laws were enacted in the nation’s first Copyright Act. According to Dr. Rita Matulionyte, Co-author of a research paper which targets the discussion of AI generated works and copyright protections, copyright laws were a means to promote intellectual and creative ideas as well as allowing owners to have financial control over their work. Matulionyte explains, “The Act exists to incentivise original authentic effort. The person’s contribution is protected.” Matulionyte also points out that copyright laws are evermore so lagging especially with the emergence of AI technology.

What is AI Generated Work?

Within our court systems in the US, federal courts along with the high court remain steadfast in their assertion that copyright protections belong to the original author of any piece of work. The emergence of AI technology has muddled this assertion over the past couple of years. 

The discussion of AI generated work revolves around the concept of when a computer program or other computer system creates an algorithm which in turn creates an original piece of artwork or writing. 

Take for example the novel 1 the Road which is described as an “experimental novel” due to the fact that it is entirely written through artificial intelligence. There’s also the interesting read, The Day a Computer Wrote a Novel. These two titles are just some of the intriguing and slowly growing list of books created by artificial intelligence. 

AI generated work also extends to visual creations as well. The intriguing piece of artwork “Portrait of Edmond De Belamy” was created through the help of artist Edmond De Belamy along with a computer generated algorithm. The portrait is an interesting look at the potential that exists with works brought forth when artists and AI work together. As the expansion of AI is only set to grow into the mainstream, the impending question over copyrights remains. Who owns the rights to AI generated work?

Are There U.S. Laws Regarding AI Copyright Protections?

In a logical sense, the ownership of AI generated work should legally lie with whoever created the algorithm of the program which created the work. In the letal world, however, the question remains unclear. Does the chain of creation start with the algorithm rendering the artificial intelligence that creates the work, or does the sole ownership of the artwork start with the programmer (or rather the team of programmers in most cases) who designed the software that creates the algorithm? And what happens when programmers and artists work together? Can both claim ownership of the copyrights? 

Point of origination and this concept of chain in creation is what most courts will need to look at and deliberate upon when it comes to handing out copyrights for an AI generated work. Depending on the case, the circumstances, and the complexity of it all, the outcome may vary from case to case. And seeing as there is no set legislation that addresses AI generated works and copyrights, the courts may have a tough time deliberating these types of cases. 

What is clear however is if AI generated work does not fall under copyright protections then by default, this may mean the work would be available for public use through the public domain. Depending on who you ask, AI generated work that goes into the public domain can be a great benefit for some including writers, bloggers, and other creators in need of public domain imagery. For others, however, it might be a step in the wrong direction as anyone would be able to use AI generated imagery for monetary gain through distribution and resale purposes.

What Do Other Countries Recognise?

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, the lines in the sand are a bit clearer when it comes to AI generated work. U.K. legislation stipulates that when it comes to copyrights for AI generated work the protections will fall to the individual or group of individuals who created the software or made the needed arrangements for the  AI generated work to be crafted. Depending on how much contribution an artist or programmer puts forth into creating the work will determine how much right they will have over it.

In other countries like Spain and Germany, it is not a matter of question because copyright protections are only offered to human authors exclusively. 

When it comes to the United States, copyright laws seem to remain ambiguous, at times straddling both thought processes. The Copyright Office explains that it will “register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being.” The copyright office’s decision stems from the ruling of Feist Publications v Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc. 499 U.S. 340 (1991) which specifies that copyright law only protects “the fruits of intellectual labor” that “are founded in the creative powers of the mind.” 

In terms of AI generated work that is already in existence, there are two ways in which a court can approach it. The first is that the copyright protections are not offered at all because the work is created by technology.  The work would instead be deemed as public domain. The second option may be that a court can rule that the protections under the individual are at the heart of the chain of creation. If an artist and programmer got together to create an algorithm that generates a piece of work, then both those individuals would have joint copyright protections over the work. 


While there is no set legislation that stipulates who can own copyright protections for AI generated work, this does leave plenty of room for that argument to be made, especially if an artist or creator had a heavy hand in the development of algorithms or software that generated the original work. 


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