In a significant legal ruling, United States District Judge Beryl Howell has reaffirmed the stance of the U.S. Copyright Office that artworks generated solely by artificial intelligence (AI) do not qualify for copyright protection. This decision comes at a time when concerns are mounting regarding the potential for generative AI to replace human artists and writers, particularly with the Hollywood writer’s strike having lasted for over 100 days
. Despite these concerns, intellectual property regulations have consistently maintained that copyrights are reserved exclusively for creations originating from human creators. Judge Howell’s ruling stemmed from a legal dispute brought by Stephen Thaler, CEO of Imagination Engines, a neural network company. Thaler contested the government’s denial of copyright registration for AI-generated creations. He argued that AI meeting the criteria for authorship should be recognized as an author, thus entitling the owner of the AI system to ownership of the work.
However, Judge Howell disagreed with this argument, emphasizing the paramount role of humans as authors under copyright law. She cited precedents such as the Burrow-Giles Lithographic Company v. Sarony case, which upheld protection for creations brought to life by humans. She even referred to a case where a photograph taken by an animal was deemed ineligible for copyright.
Howell underscored the role of copyright in motivating human creative endeavors, highlighting that copyrights and patents were established to safeguard intellectual property, nurture scientific and artistic innovation, and foster creativity.
This ruling comes in the midst of ongoing legal debates about AI companies using copyrighted content for training purposes. Several lawsuits in California have been filed by artists alleging copyright infringements. These legal actions could potentially compel AI companies to reevaluate their language models and data sources.
In essence, this legal decision reshapes the discourse surrounding AI and copyright. While AI-generated art may not be granted copyright protection, it reiterates the irreplaceable value of human creativity in the realm of intellectual property.