US court rules against copyrights for AI-generated art in favor of human artists

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In a significant legal ruling, a US court located in Washington DC has determined that artworks produced solely by artificial intelligence, without any human involvement, are not eligible for copyright protection under United States law.

US District Judge Beryl Howell clarified that copyright protection is reserved exclusively for works created by human authors, thereby upholding the decision made by the US Copyright Office. This ruling was a response to an application filed by computer scientist Stephen Thaler on behalf of his creation, the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS) system.

This judgment followed a series of setbacks for Thaler’s attempts to secure US patents for inventions attributed to the DABUS system. In his pursuit of recognition, he also submitted DABUS-generated patents in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, with limited success.

Thaler’s attorney, Ryan Abbott, expressed strong disagreement with the court’s decision and indicated an intention to appeal. The US Copyright Office did not provide an immediate response to inquiries regarding this matter.

The realm of generative AI introduced novel challenges to intellectual property. A prior instance involved an artist’s request for copyright protection for images produced through the AI system Midjourney, which the Copyright Office rejected, citing the absence of a human role in the creative process.

Lawsuits also emerged over the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials to train generative AI models.

Judge Howell acknowledged the evolving landscape of copyright law as AI becomes a tool for artists. He stressed that the case at hand, though, is less intricate. Thaler’s 2018 application sought copyright protection for “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” a visual artwork attributed to his AI system’s autonomous creation. The application was turned down by the Copyright Office in the prior year, emphasizing the prerequisite of human authorship for copyright eligibility.

Thaler’s argument challenged the requirement of human authorship as a legal criterion. He contended that granting AI-generated works copyrights would align with the fundamental purpose of copyright law as outlined in the US Constitution – to foster scientific and artistic progress.

Judge Howell, however, sided with the Copyright Office, asserting that human authorship is a fundamental cornerstone of copyright protection, rooted in established understanding spanning centuries.