U.S. Copyright Office rules that AI art can’t be copyrighted

copyright claim in typewriter

The U.S. Copyright Office has told a federal judge in the United States that AI art can’t be protected by copyright provisions.

In what may turn out to be a decisive ruling for numerous legal clashes around AI art and how it’s used, the main authority on the subject in the United States has told a federal judge that AI-generated art isn’t subject to copyright protection.

The issue largely started when an AI developer named Stephen Thaler applied to the office to have his creative machine system dubbed DAUBUS, be named as the copyright holder to an artwork it had generated called “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”.

AI artwork image

Steven Thaler’s “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”

The Copyright Office rejected Thaler’s application and he in turn filed a lawsuit against it demanding that the office overturn its decision.

In response, the U.S. Copyright Office told the judge presiding over the lawsuit that it should be dismissed.

In its defense, this powerful arbiter of copyright law in the U.S. and, to some extent, in the wider world claims that its argument:

“turns on a single question: Did the Office act reasonably and consistently with the law when it refused to extend copyright protection to a visual work the plaintiff represented was created without any human involvement? The answer is yes.”

The office essentially argues that it made a judgment based on correct legal criteria and that Thaler’s case is thus invalid. It further stated, “The Office confirmed that copyright protection does not extend to non-human authors,”

It further noted that this decision is “based on the language of the Copyright Act, Supreme Court precedent, and federal court decisions refusing to extend copyright protection to non-human authorship.”

Another noteworthy argument made by the office is that according to its guidelines, human authorship is necessary for the protection of a piece of artwork.

Specifically, “the Office will refuse to register a claim if it determines that a human being did not create the work.”

It further elaborated that it “will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author”

This last quote above is especially important because it touches right at the heart of the muddy debate around how much of a piece of AI-rendered art can be considered mechanically created by a machine, and how much can be considered a human creation in the context of human text prompts.

In other words, even with this decision by the Copyright Office, plenty of space remains for ambiguity in future legal clashes around AI art and copyright.

photo of U.S. Copyright Office

U.S. Copyright Office headquarters

That aside, the Copyright Office has accused Thaler of essentially lying in his own claims. It says that he first claimed his art to have been made entirely without his input.

Later, however, according to the Copyright Office, he claimed that he “‘provided instructions and directed his AI to create the work,”. It also claims he said his AI is entirely controlled by him and that it only operates under his direction.

In summary, the Copyright Office argues that its decision is “soundly and rationally based on settled law, and not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law”.

 Given all of the above, they’ve requested that the D.C. court judge dismiss Thaler’s case.

Three further things are worth noting here.

The first of these is that if indeed the Copyright Office bases its reasoning on a precedent-based unwillingness to grant copyright to art that has been mechanically created, its grounds for requesting dismissal could rapidly erode. Thaler would only need to demonstrate that his artwork required his own creative input with his AI.

Furthermore, if Thaler could win his suit against the Copyright Office based on this, then it would further cement many other claims of copyright protection for AI-rendered art.

The simple argument here would be that their human input required a unique human creative process.

Finally, this particular lawsuit and the associated ruling are different from others being made AGAINST AI-rendering platforms that are being accused of copyright infringement.

In some of these latter cases, artists are claiming that their human-created work was used to “inspire” AI renderings without credit or permission.

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Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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