Man vs. Machine: Can AI Generated Art be Copyrighted?

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Another unexplored frontier around the evolving use of AI surfaced earlier this month, as the dispute arose over whether or not artwork created by AI can be copyrighted.

The case in question was Stephen Thaler’s, “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” which was generated by Creative Machine, a software Thaler had developed. “Creative Machine” was also the name listed as the “author” of the image in the application. Thaler has been seeking, so far unsuccessfully, to copyright the piece.

It seems the human element is still considered significant in creating works of art – as a federal judge expressed when he denied Thaler’s appeal for a copyright of the image in an August 18th decision.

US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled the copyright was prohibited based on the fact that “works generated by new forms of technology operating absent of any guiding human hand” have never been protected under copyright laws.

Judge Howell wrote in a statement, “The Copyright Office denied the application on the basis that the work lack[ed] the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” He reiterated that copyright law only applies to works created by human beings.

The judge’s ruling upheld a previous decision by the US Copyright Office, and marked at least the third attempt by Thaler to  cover the artwork under copyright protection.

While the decision seems definitive, it appears not every case is so black and white, according to the US Copyright Office, who said earlier this year they’re willing to consider copyright requests on a case-by-case basis for artwork generated by AI. The key to securing the copyright will lie in determining how much or how little human involvement directly contributed to producing the work.

As this new frontier continues to be explored, it’s likely other forms of art in genres like music or poetry will eventually face similar scrutiny. The human element still reigns supreme, at least for now.

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