Can a Work of Art Created by AI be Protected by Copyright?

From The 1709 Blog:

We now learn that auction house Christies will sell in October a work of art titled     [  ())] +  [( − (()))], Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy, which was created using AI.

Portrait of Edmond de Belamy – used for discussion purposes only

It is the work of a Paris-based collective, obvious art, founded by Pierre Fautrel, Gauthier Vernier and Hugo Caselles-Dupré. The work was created using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, more precisely the Generative Adversarial Networks technology invented in 2014 by Ian Goodfellow, which can create images. The name of the work, Edmond de Belamy, is an homage to Ian Goodfellow, whose last name can be translated in French as “Bel ami.”

Obvious art created a program, fed it with information about some 10,000 portraits from the 15th to the 19th Century, and Edmond de Belamy was printed. The whole process is explained on obvious art’s website.

. . . .

The portrait shows a man painted over a black and gray background from which he appears to emerge, dressed in black, with a white collar, in a fashion reminiscent of 17th century Dutch paintings. His features are not precisely lineated and one does not even see his nose. He is looking at us from an angle, and appears to have been painted by large brushstrokes.

The collective’s goal was to prove that machines can also be creative, just like humans (see thisinterview in French). It is an algorithm which created the work. Does that mean that Edmond de Belamy cannot be protected by copyright?

. . . .

Obvious art used the formula of the loss function of the original GAN model as the signature for the painting they created. If a program is the author of the work, then the work cannot be protected by copyright.
The U.S. Copyright Office clearly stated in its Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices that a work must be created by a human being to be protected by copyright, and that“[t]he Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants, giving as an example a work which cannot be protected by copyright a “photograph taken by a monkey.” It could now add “a painting created by AI.
. . . .
But even if we consider AI to be a mere tool, it is not a tool like a spade or a brush, as this tool had to be created and could be protected by copyright.
Computer programs can be protected by copyright and software, as it is a computer program, can be protected. A software is defined by the copyright Act as “a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result” and U.S. courts use an “abstraction-filtration-comparison test” [see here for example] to find out which elements of a computer program can be protected by copyright.
If the tool used to create a work is protected by copyright, does that mean that the work thus created is also protected? Not necessarily, as Section 721.6 of the Compendium specifies that “ownership of the copyright in a work is distinct from ownership of any material object that may be used to create that work. The fact that the author used a computer to write an article, short story, or other nondramatic literary work does not mean that the work is a computer program.

Link to the rest at The 1709 Blog

5 thoughts on “Can a Work of Art Created by AI be Protected by Copyright?”

  1. First, can we consider it ‘art’?

    Second, since the ‘AI’ is owned by somebody – or was programmed/told by somebody the ‘make arts!’, that somebody would own the ‘art’ and thus be the one holding the copyright.

    I took several objects in DAZ and made something that no one else had made that way. So this here SICBLF owns the copyright. (Semi-Intelligent Carbon-Based Life-Form)

    • Before the term AI, we called them Expert Systems.

      Before Expert Systems, we called them just programs. ‘Cause we didn’t have the marketing buzz.

      • The best term (and description) for that was coined by the BioWare guys for the MASS EFFECT GAMES: Virtual Intelligence – described as purely an interactive interface for a database.

        In the first, and best, game you have a conversation with a hologram that explains a lot of things but repeatedly runs into the limits of its data and refers you to living beings.

        This was necessary because the game does feature actual AIs as antagonists so it was important to their civilization to be precise and distinguish between the two.

        At some point we will have to do the same. Hopefully not for the same (killer robot) reasons.

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