AI vs IP

Can Artificial Intelligence software claim copyright in any work that was created using their algorithms?

The short answer is “no”, since only humans can establish copyright in original creative works. Copyright can be assigned to a company or trust, or it can be created under various forms of creative commons, but there still needs to be a human author behind the copyright material. While copyright may lapse over time, it then becomes part of the public domain.

However, the extent to which a human author can claim copyright in a work that has been created with the help of AI is now being challenged. A recent case in the USA has determined that the author of a graphic novel, which included images created using Midjouney, cannot claim copyright in those images. While it was accepted that the author devised the text and other prompts that the software used as the generative inputs, the output images themselves could not be the subject of copyright protection – meaning they are either in the public domain, or they fall under some category of creative commons? This case also indicates that, in the USA at least, failing to declare the use of AI tools in a work when applying for copyright registration may result in a rejected application.

Does this decision mean that the people who write AI programmes could claim copyright in works created using their software? Probably not – as this would imply that Microsoft could establish copyright in every novel written using Word, especially its grammar and spelling tools.

On the other hand, programmers and software developers who use copyright material to train their models may need to obtain relevant permission from the copyright holders (as would anyone using the AI tools and who uses copyright content as prompts), unless they could claim exemptions under “fair dealing” or “fair use” provisions.

We’re still early in the lengthy process whereby copyright and other intellectual property laws are tested and re-calibrated in the wake of AI. Maybe the outcomes of future copyright cases will depend on whether you are Ed Sheeran or Robin Thicke….

Next week: Customer Experience vs Process Design