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AI-Created Art Not Eligible for Copyright, Landmark Ruling Declares

In a significant legal decision that may shape the future landscape of art and technology, Judge Beryl Howell has ruled that art produced solely by artificial intelligence cannot be granted copyright protection. The central rationale: “human authorship is an essential part of a valid copyright claim.”

A Bold Claim Challenges Copyright Norms

Computer scientist Stephen Thaler approached the courts, seeking to copyright an image which, he argued, was generated by an AI system he owns, named the “Creativity Machine.” Asserting his rights as the machine’s proprietor, Thaler believed he was rightfully the copyright holder. However, his application met a roadblock at the Copyright Office, which held that a human touch was imperative for any copyright claim. Undeterred, Thaler initiated legal proceedings.

In her ruling, Howell staunchly defended the Copyright Office’s stance, invoking time-honored legal principles concerning human ingenuity. She expounded, “The act of human creation — and how to best encourage human individuals to engage in that creation, and thereby promote science and the useful arts — was thus central to American copyright from its very inception.”

Ryan Abbott, representing Thaler, conveyed his client’s dissent to Rolling Stone, stating, “We disagree with the District Court’s decision. In our view, copyright law is clear that the American public is the beneficiary of the law, and the public benefits when the generation and dissemination of works is encouraged, regardless of how the works are made. We do plan to appeal.”

The Evolving Paradigm of Copyright in the AI Age

Judge Howell acknowledged the seismic shifts in copyright dynamics brought on by AI’s burgeoning influence. She even recognized Thaler’s contention regarding copyright law’s flexibility in the face of technological evolution. But Howell’s emphasis remained unshaken: human involvement is paramount. She contrasted AI-generated art with photographs—though captured by machines, they have an unmistakable human touch.

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She elucidated, “Underlying that adaptability, however, has been a consistent understanding that human creativity is the sine qua non at the core of copyrightability, even as that human creativity is channeled through new tools or into new media.” Delving deeper, Howell remarked about artists now embracing AI as an instrumental facet in their creative process, suggesting that this integration will usher in “complex questions” about human involvement, originality, scope, and more in AI-augmented artworks.

A Case Rooted in Technicalities, Not Broad Technological Queries

However, Howell highlighted that Thaler’s lawsuit was not as intricate as the larger debate. Ironically, it centered more on the intricacies of application wording than on expansive queries concerning technology, art, and copyright.

In his preliminary application, Thaler emphasized the artwork’s autonomous creation by the machine, anchoring his copyright plea on his “machine ownership.” Yet, Howell shed light on a later shift in Thaler’s stance, suggesting he played a pivotal role in the art’s inception by providing directives to his AI. Such an argument could have paved the way for a more intricate judgment. But Thaler’s assertions, Howell pointed out, starkly contrasted with his initial application, and no efforts were made to amend this record to stake a copyright based on these new grounds.

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