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Federal Judge Rules Generative AI Works Ineligible for Copyright

A federal judge has ruled that works produced by generative AI cannot be copyrighted. The decision upheld the U.S. Copyright Office when it judged that human authorship remains a prerequisite under current copyright law. Judge Beryl Howell issued the ruling in a case brought by AI developer Stephen Thaler, CEO of Imagination Engines, who challenged the Copyright Office’s 2017 rejection of a copyright application that listed an AI system called the Creativity Machine as the sole creator of a generated artwork. The rule comes after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Thaler in a similar suit over patents.

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The Copyright Office had denied the application on the grounds that copyright law protects only works of human authorship and creativity. Thaler sued, arguing AI should qualify as an author if it meets other requirements. His lawsuit contested the office’s human authorship mandate as arbitrary and unlawful. The Copyright Office had decreed that synthetic media doesn’t get full copyright protection in a case over a comic book earlier this year.

But Howell strongly affirmed the office’s stance. She explained human creativity remains integral to copyrightability despite new technologies. Past court decisions have concluded the same, recognizing protection only for works reflecting an author’s original intellectual conceptions. While cameras mechanically reproduce images, the photos still stem from human creative choices like composition, lighting, and more, Howell noted. Thus, human direction is key in considering new mediums copyrightable.

“In the absence of any human involvement in the creation of the work, the clear and straightforward answer is the one given by the Register: No,” Howell wrote. “Human involvement in, and ultimate creative control over, the work at issue was key to the conclusion that the new type of work fell within the bounds of copyright.”

Thaler’s had poor luck in courts already in this regard after the Supre Court’s rejection of his appeal over the loss of a case against the US Patent and Trademark Office. The high court chose to uphold the judgment of a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit judge sided with the USPTO in rejecting the patents and prototypes of two devices he claims were entirely the work of a generative AI model named Dabus (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience).

Howell also emphasized how copyright aims to encourage human creation for the public good. The law was designed to incentivize individuals, not reach non-human actors like AI. The ruling affirms that AI models don’t supersede longstanding human authorship requirements. It basically maintains the status quo that machine creation alone isn’t enough for copyright, even as technology advances. Howell cited the consistent legal understanding that human direction remains essential. Thaler’s push reflects the debate around extending copyright to AI as generative models proliferate. But Howell’s ruling shuts the door on AI authorship absent legislative changes.


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