AI Creates New Conflicts in Intellectual Property Law

It seems like every day there is some new claim about the revolutionizing power of artificial intelligence (AI). How much of this will have a lasting effect remains to be seen, but from a legal standpoint, the intellectual property challenges are already present and pressing, particularly when it comes to copyrights. Copyright law is designed to protect original works of authorship, such as books, music, movies, and software, but AI has the capacity to generate works that closely resemble existing creations, even unintentionally. This has already fueled a number of contentious copyright infringement disputes as the courts struggle to rethink basic questions of authorship and usage.

Potential Copyright Infringement

One of the most significant challenges in assessing whether an AI-generated work constitutes copyright infringement is the fact that AI lacks human authorship. These algorithms utilize machine learning, which extrapolates new content by drawing upon the existing work of humans (a process that is itself a source of legal contention). Consequently, applying the traditional copyright law concept of “originality” to AI-generated works becomes almost impossible. Copyright law requires a work to be the result of the author’s unique intellectual labor, so as of now, the U.S. Copyright Office holds the position that completely AI-generated works cannot be copyrighted. This line is easily blurred, however, For example, if you write the lyrics to a song, and an AI sings the tune, can it be copyrighted? 

The questions posed by AI are just beginning to be addressed within our existing legal framework, making straightforward answers scarce to date. This means that businesses and individuals utilizing AI must be aware of the potential copyright issues that AI can raise and take proactive steps to protect their own copyrights. Likewise, they need to be careful to avoid infringing on the intellectual property protections that safeguard the works of others as well.

AI Is ‘Artificial,’ But Its Impacts Are Not

Another complicating factor arises from AI’s ability to produce “transformative” works, or works that introduce new meaning or expression to an original creation. Copyright law generally does not consider transformative works to be copyright infringements. However, distinguishing whether an AI-generated work qualifies as transformative is challenging and can be subjective.

For example, AI-powered image generators can produce images that are very similar to copyrighted photographs. In this case, the copyright owner of the original photographs could potentially pursue legal action against the AI user or developer for copyright infringement. The outcome of a lawsuit or settlement would have to consider several factors, like how much of the original work was used and how much influence the artist using the AI had on its output. 

To some extent, these questions have always dogged the debate over “transformative” work. For example, the artist Andy Warhol became famous, in part, by painting an almost exact replica of Campbell’s soup cans, but he was posthumously sued, successfully, for drawing on someone else’s portrait of the artist Prince and then licensing that image as his own work. Here too, the courts will need to navigate what it means for AI to “transform” other people’s work, meaning that content creators need to tread carefully if they want to avoid legal action and to make sure their own work doesn’t get misappropriated.

Moving Toward an AI-Powered Future

Many companies have already started harnessing the power of AI, but using it responsibly in a legal sense will continue to be tricky until we have a stronger legal framework in place to deal with this new and very disruptive technology. Perhaps ironically, AI may have a role to play here as well. For instance, it can be used to monitor the Internet for online copyright infringement or identify and remove copyrighted content from websites. As this technology continues to advance, we can expect more such innovative methods for protecting intellectual property to come online.

For now, this remains largely uncharted territory. If you need help understanding and navigating this tricky terrain, consult with the experienced legal professionals at Integrated General Counsel, P.C. For a free initial consultation to address your intellectual property questions, call (925) 399-1529 today.

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