CopyrightsLitigation InsightsU.S. Copyright Office Urges D.C. Circuit to Reject Protection for AI Generated Work

March 10, 2024

The U.S. Copyright Office recently argued in its response brief to Stephen Thaler’s appeal, against recognizing AI-generated works as eligible for copyright protection, emphasizing that copyright law historically protects only human-created works. This statement came in response to Mr. Thaler’s appeal of a D.C. federal judge’s ruling last year, challenging the office’s rejection of a two-dimensional artwork which was created by his AI system, “the Creativity Machine. ” The Copyright Office highlighted that the Copyright Act’s language clearly intended to protect human created works of art, citing references to authors’ natural life, heirs, and capacity to enter legal contracts.

Mr. Thaler’s appeal points to a broader debate about AI in art and whether machines can hold copyrights. His argument compares AI to corporations, which can hold copyrights despite not being human. However, the Copyright Office maintains that in such cases, humans are still the underlying authors by law. This distinction raises questions about the future of creativity and copyright as AI technologies continue to advance and create complex works.

The Copyright Office has rejected other attempts to register AI-generated art, including a two-dimensional artwork called “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” which won an award at the 2022 Colorado State Fair. Most recently, the Copyright Office Review Board rejected an application to register an AI-generated artwork inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in December.

For now, the Copyright Office has pushed to keep the human element a necessary aspect of protection for artist works. As technology evolves, the legal framework surrounding copyrights and AI-generated art will remain a contentious issue. The Copyright Office’s stance underscores a traditional view of authorship, rooted in human creativity and legal capacity. However, Mr. Thaler’s case and similar incidents suggest a growing desire to reconsider these boundaries in light of technological innovation.
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