How the “monkey selfie” is affecting copyright law for art and writing produced by artificial intelligence
Earlier this month, the United States Copyright Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization co-sponsored a symposium titled Copyright in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. The purpose of the symposium was to examine “how the creative community currently is using artificial intelligence (AI) to create original works,” and “what level of human input is sufficient for the resulting work to be eligible for copyright protection,” among other topics.
In his article for The Scholarly Kitchen, Todd A Carpenter read the discussion threads in WIPO’s public consultation and learned that the court decision regarding the famous monkey selfie of 2011 could steer copyright law regarding works created by artificial intelligence.
In 2011, a nature photographer left his camera on a tripod and an endangered Celebes crested macaques, intrigued by its reflection in the lens snapped perhaps hundreds of pictures of itself. One of those photos ended up promoted by the photographer and it ended up in the British press. Other sites, such as Wikipedia and Techdirt reproduced the photo on their sites, that the photographer and PETA eventually perused in court to seek compensation as violation of copyright. Whether the photographer could assert copyright in the photograph was eventually dismissed by the Ninth Circuit court of appeals in 2018.
In the Copyright Office’s Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, released on 22 December, 2014, the Office stated that, “only works created by a human can be copyrighted under United States law, which excludes photographs and artwork created by animals or by machines without human intervention” and furthermore, “Because copyright law is limited to ‘original intellectual conceptions of the author,’ the [copyright] office will refuse to register a claim if it determines that a human being did not create the work. The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” What is left open to wide interpretation is the role of human intervention. In the case of AI, so the argument goes, there is human intervention in the design of the algorithms, in their training, and in their post-algorithm curation.
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