The copyright conundrum: Who owns content generated by AI?

15 May 2023

Research Fellow Pratap Devarapalli, from TC Beirne School of Law, shares his perspective around the question of ownership.

profile photo of Pratap Devarapalli standing in UQs Great CourtHave you ever used a website or app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create artwork or content? You may have used ChatGPT, which generates text on any subject you submit, or DALL-E, which creates realistic images and art based on your prompts. AI-generated realistic images and art, however, are not entirely distinctive or new. They are based on billions of existing works from which the AI has learned and are essentially remixes or mashups of various works.

What does the existing law say?

The legal questions surrounding the ownership and use of AI-created works are still up for debate under copyright law. Authors' rights and interests in their original works such as books, songs and paintings are protected by copyright law - giving them the right to control the copying, sharing, adaptation, performance and display of their creations. However, copyright law has restrictions and exceptions such as fair use, parody, criticism, education and research. Additionally, works that are not sufficiently creative or original such as ideas, facts or processes are not protected by copyright laws.

However, AI-made works don't fit easily into these existing rules and categories of copyright law, and raise complex issues such as:

  • Are AI-made works original and creative enough to be protected by copyright?
  • Are AI-made works different enough from the existing works that they use as data or inspiration?
  • Who is the author of AI-made works?
  • How can copyright be enforced or violated in relation to AI-made works, and who is responsible for any problems or damages?

Is there a current solution?

There may be different answers to these problems in different countries, but none of them appear ideal or sustainable. For works created by AI, a more adaptable and collaborative approach like Creative Commons (CC) licences would be beneficial. A global organisation called Creative Commons (CC) provides an array of licences that enable authors to share their works with others with specific restrictions. These range from those that allow any use of a work with credit (CC BY) to those that allow only non-commercial use of a work with credit and share-alike (CC BY-NC-SA).

AI generated artwork of a person and a robot talkingCC licences could be used in numerous ways for AI-produced works. For instance, the user of the AI app or website could select a CC licence for the final product and provide credit to the creator of the AI app or website. The individual who develops the AI app or website may decide to use a Creative Commons licence for it and its outputs while giving credit to the authors of the data sources. The data sources and their creators could select a CC licence for their works and permit them to be used, under specific restrictions, by AI apps or websites.

CC licences could assist or alleviate some of the challenges raised by AI-created works by offering clarity, openness and options to all stakeholders involved. They could also encourage a culture of content sharing, remixing and reuse that is responsible and courteous.

AI has created new possibilities and challenges for innovation and creativity as well as new issues and conundrums for copyright law. As AI advances continue to evolve, it's crucial to develop a better understanding of their impact on copyright and to regulate their effects accordingly.

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