AI-Generated Art Cannot Be Copyrighted, Rules US Federal Court In Another Landmark Decision

AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted
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AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted
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Photo Credit: Alexander Sinn

Art created by artificial intelligence without human input cannot be copyrighted under US law, rules a federal court in Washington, DC.

When Stephen Thaler, the creator of an AI system he calls the “Creativity Machine,” sought to register work generated by the system for copyright, the Copyright Office denied the request on the grounds that the work had no human authorship, which they determined as a prerequisite for copyright issuance. A US District Judge on Friday ruled in the Copyright Office’s favor, affirming that only works with human authors can receive copyrights.

In his filing, Thaler sought to claim the copyright of the AI-generated work by listing himself as the human creator, having developed the AI system that generated the art in question. Thaler has applied for related patents in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, with little success.

Ryan Abbott, an attorney for Thaler, said he and his client “strongly disagree” with the US court decision and will appeal. Meanwhile, the Copyright Office released a statement that it “believes the court reached the correct result.”

Thaler and his legal team called the Copyright Office’s denial of copyright to his AI-generated work “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law, unsupported by substantial evidence, and in excess of Defendants’ statutory authority.”

“Defendants are correct that human authorship is an essential part of a valid copyright claim,” writes Judge Beryl A. Howell in denying the plaintiff Thaler’s motion for summary judgment and ruling in favor of the Copyright Office.

“By design in plaintiff’s framing of the registration application,” writes Judge Howell, “the single legal question presented here is whether a work generated autonomously by a computer falls under the protection of copyright law upon its creation.”

“The Register did not err in denying the copyright registration application presented by (Thaler). United States copyright law protects only works of human creation,” she continues, noting that Thaler “correctly observes” that throughout its history, copyright law “has proven malleable enough to cover works created with or involving technologies developed long after traditional media of writings memorialized on paper.”

Copyright law, by design, does and should adapt to the times, says Judge Howell, but that adaptability is consistent with the understanding that human creativity is the core of copyrightability — “even as that human creativity is channeled through new tools or into new media.”

Copyright has never stretched so far, however, as to protect works generated by new forms of technology operating absent any guiding human hand,” Judge Howell writes. “Human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright.”

In a similar decision, Judge Howell’s ruling follows a Supreme Court ruling in Burrow-Giles Lithographic Company v. Sarony, in which there was “no doubt” that copyright protection extended to photographs — as long as those photographs are “representative of original intellectual conceptions of the author,” — clearly defined by the Supreme Court as human.