Webinar recap: US Copyright Office on registering works with AI-generated content

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In its June 28 Webinar on generative AI, the US Copyright Office recapped the policy document it issued on March 16, 2023, reviewed a registration refusal for Zarya of the Dawn, an illustrated work that incorporated AI-generated content; and reiterated that copyright protection applies only under specific conditions.

There were several notable take-aways relating to standards of minimum creative effort, below which, a work cannot be copyrighted, disclosure of the use of generative AI.

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The US Copyright Office takes the position that “copyright protects only those constituent elements of a work that possess more than a (minimum amount) of creativity,” which was established by a 1991 US Supreme Court decision. “Works that contain no … (or a minimum of) … original expression are not copyrightable,” it continued.

Works that are created using AI tools and are deemed to be original may include a disclaimer that states that they include AI-generated text, images or programming.

Under US Code, applicants making false representations when applying for registration may be fined.  Applications submitted after the Copyright Office March 16 policy declaration are subject to the higher registration and disclosure standards listed therein.

For example, AI-assisted tools used in production are likely to be permitted without the need for disclosure, but if the content itself is created artificially, a disclaimer could be required.  The Copyright Office will release examples of copyright applications for works involving generative AI under various use-cases in the creative process.

Further reading

US and UK copyright authorities issue guidance for emerging virtual works categories. Article. April 25, 2023. Steven Hawley. Piracy Monitor

US Copyright Office disqualifies AI-generated art from copyrighted book. Article. February 23, 2023. Steven Hawley. Piracy Monitor

AI and Copyright Law: Takeaways from the June 2023 U.S. Copyright Office Public Webinar. Article. June 28, 2023. Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP

U.S. Copyright Office Generative AI Event: Three Key Takeaways. Article. June 29, 2023. Franklin Graves. IP Watchdog

Why it matters

Copyright protection is a fundamental anti-piracy tool, by empowering a rights-holder to identify and quantify an asset which it owns or has the rights to distribute.  The Copyright Office focus on the use of artificial intelligence to generate works in creative fields is intended to determine the boundaries and the rules of engagement around AI-created assets.

The Webinar captured a lot of interest: according to one report, it was attended by about 1,500 people and received more than 150 audience questions.

The US Copyright Office series doesn’t directly address the potential for pirates to abuse AI to steal content, but Copyright Office policy to identify content as being AI-generated could conceivably help reduce the risk that consumers are tricked by AI-generated disinformation that lures them to illegally distributed content or services.

While AI may also (intentionally or not) incorporate copyrighted content into a generated item, those use-cases are not expressly within the scope of this USCO Webinar series.

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