AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted, ruled by US Federal Judge

Steven Thaler and/or Creativity Machine
Steven Thaler and/or Creativity Machine


Judge Beryl A. Howell of the United States District Court has ruled that artworks generated by artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be granted copyright protection. This decision came as a response to a lawsuit brought against the US Copyright Office by Stephen Thaler, who sought copyright for an AI-generated image produced using his Creativity Machine algorithm.

Thaler attempted to secure copyright for the AI-generated artwork on behalf of the Creativity Machine, with the intention of being recognized as the owner and the machine as the creator. However, his requests were consistently denied by the Copyright Office.

Following the Copyright Office's final rejection, Thaler took legal action against the Office, arguing that its denial was unjust and not in line with legal standards. Nonetheless, Judge Howell disagreed with this perspective. In her verdict, she highlighted that copyright protection has historically been extended only to creations that bear the influence of human input and authorship. She emphasized that the concept of "human authorship" is an essential prerequisite for copyright eligibility.

Judge Howell cited previous cases to underscore this principle, including the famous example of a monkey selfie. In contrast, she referenced a case in which a woman compiled a book based on her interpretation of "dictated" words from a supernatural source. This case was deemed suitable for copyright protection due to the perceived human involvement.

However, Judge Howell acknowledged the evolving landscape of copyright as it intersects with AI technology. She recognized the emergence of new challenges posed by the use of AI as a creative tool, questioning the extent of human contribution necessary for AI-generated art to qualify for copyright. She observed that AI models often learn from existing works, further complicating the determination of copyright ownership and authorship.

Stephen Thaler expressed his intention to appeal the court's decision. His legal representative, Ryan Abbot of Brown Neri Smith & Khan LLP, voiced disagreement with the court's interpretation of the Copyright Act. Concurrently, the US Copyright Office released a statement supporting the court's ruling.

The intersection of US copyright law and artificial intelligence remains an area of uncertainty, with various legal disputes emerging. Notably, Sarah Silverman and other authors initiated legal action against OpenAI and Meta over data scraping practices, and programmer-lawyer Matthew Butterick filed a lawsuit alleging software piracy due to data scraping by Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI. The outcomes of these cases will play a role in shaping the legal landscape for AI-generated content.

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