AI-generated content has been making quite a stir lately when it comes to ethics.
Artists have made claims that art generators are ripping off their styles without compensation, students using ChatGPT are getting bad grades from teachers because of plagiarism, and now many are wondering… who actually owns AI-generated content?
As folks who work in an industry that’s rapidly adopting AI into its work processes in different forms, we find ourselves faced with the same question.
Generally, AI-generated content is owned by the person or organization who put in the prompt that led to the creation of the AI-generated content.
Let’s talk about what that truly means.
Here is a quick snapshot of the topics we'll cover:
- The law hasn’t caught up to the newest AI technology so precedents have yet to be set
- Courts are generally hostile to non-human authorship
- Most likely the person who created the prompts that led to the generation of the AI content is the owner
Table of Contents
- Who Really Owns AI-Generated Content
- The Debate of AI Content Ownership
- Can You Copyright AI-Generated Content?
- Impact of AI-Generated Content Ownership
Who Really Owns AI-Generated Content
In general, the person or organization who initially created the AI algorithm that produced the AI content has ownership of all content created using that algorithm IF (and that’s a big IF) there was no human on the other end using the AI tool to create new work.
However, under current U.S. law, only original work created by a human author can claim copyright protection.
This means that AI-generated content itself is not “owned” by AI.
So then who does it belong to?
In the case of art created using AI tools, the human artist who used the tool could claim ownership of the art, even though the AI tool was used in creating the art.
The same argument can be made for a human who uses ChatGPT to create written content, so long as a person was responsible for input that led to the creation of the final product.
The Debate of AI Content Ownership
You're not alone if you’re still confused about the details of AI content ownership. The big issue is that we haven’t worked out AI’s place in law or, for that matter, in society.
Here are some of the significant issues surrounding the topic of AI content ownership.
1. Legal Side
When we’re talking about “ownership,” there are serious legal considerations to take into account.
As it stands, a machine can’t claim the legal ownership of… well, anything. So ChatGPT itself doesn’t have any legal rights to the content it produces.
The debate of legal ownership, in this case, would be whether OpenAI (the organization behind the creation of the tool) or the human who contributed the input that ultimately led to the content produced.
In the imaginary scenario where an individual wants to claim ownership of an AI-created paragraph or written work and the creator of the algorithm also wants to claim the same, ownership rights would need to be debated in court. There’s no clear-cut answer for who would win as of yet.
2. Ethical Considerations
One of the most hotly debated topics in the AI world is the ethical side of things.
For instance, many artists have taken issue with AI image apps copying their art styles to generate images for people using their services. Understandably, these artists are claiming that their work is being copied, which undermines their unique talent and leads to profit for the AI owners rather than the artists they’re ripping off.
There are also issues with whether or not it’s ethical to have AI generate an entire novel that a person ends up slapping their name on it. If they didn’t actually write it, many wonder how they could lay claim to it.
The same goes for academic settings. Should a student receive a good grade on a research paper that they took no part in writing? Many teachers would say no.
All of the ethical considerations boil down to people being concerned that machine learning is replacing or undermining originality and human creativity. It’s often considered “cheating” or “taking a shortcut” at the expense of human creators.
3. Role of AI Creators
AI creators then have a responsibility of transparency to the public.
Since the average human using AI doesn’t know the depth and limits of AI software, it would probably be a good idea to provide users with a baseline education on how AI works and what output to expect.
For instance, AI is not unbiased. Technically considered “machine learning,” AI draws on source material already out there without discernment or fact-checking, meaning the AI is only as correct as the internet.
It’s also a good ethical practice to gain consent from the source material (i.e., artists, authors, etc.) before utilizing and repurposing their original content. Will this happen anytime soon? Who’s to say?
Can You Copyright AI-Generated Content?
Yes, you can copyright AI-generated content for now. But the copyright could be challenged in court.
1. Current State of Copyright Laws and AI
Current laws specify human ownership as a necessity for copyright.
If a person uses AI as an assistant (as long as a human being has an input) they can copyright the content.
It’s important to note that this has been challenged in court before and strict laws surrounding AI, in general, have not been worked out yet.
2. Challenges of Copyrighting AI Content
The biggest challenge copyrighting AI content is currently facing is the battle between the creator of the content and the creator of the algorithm.
Since both play a significant role in the creation, true ownership can be (and has been) easily disputed in court.
Then there’s the issue of the AI itself and copyright infringement. If the AI tool creates something too similar to the source material, who is held liable?
For now, everything is still getting worked out, and laws are not yet in place to make AI ownership clear-cut.
3. Potential Solutions for Copyrighting AI Content
One possible solution for copyrighting AI content is to create an entirely new type of copyright that lists every party that played a part in creating the finished product and what each party contributed specifically.
Since AI content is a collaborative effort, it would make sense for the copyright to reflect that.
Impact of AI-Generated Content Ownership
AI-generated content ownership has far-reaching implications across multiple industries.
1. On Media & Entertainment
The lawsuit surrounding ownership of the first-ever AI-generated graphic novel “Zaya of Dawn” is a shining example of how blurry the lines are regarding AI ownership in media and entertainment.
Since so much of entertainment is based on personal creativity and originality, now that creators are going to start using AI in their art, we may see AI ownership lawsuits surrounding some of our new favorite movies.
Most recently, the SAG-AFTRA and WAG strikes have shown that the threat of AI taking over and possibly replacing human artists is a serious area of concern.
At the time of publishing, the WAG agreement protects human writers, while the tentative SAG agreement requires performer consent for a “digital double” scan of their bodies.
2. On Marketing and Advertising
Marketing and advertising are industries that have quickly adopted AI as part of their regular daily practices.
If OpenAI begins challenging marketers with lawsuits over AI-generated blog posts and other content, it could cause a widespread issue.
3. Technology and Software Development
Finally, AI’s very own creator technology could prove an ownership issue.
AI has recently begun to generate unique code. GitHub Copilot (owned by Microsoft) has recently been hit with a class-action lawsuit that claims the AI pair programmer pirates open-source software and does not attribute the original author of the code or copyright notices.
This crosses the line of processes developed to ensure the security and validity of open-source software, effectively ripping off copyrighted code by entirely omitting those sections of code.
For now, AI is legally owned by either the organization or people responsible for the creation of the AI algorithm or the person whose input led to the creation of AI-assisted content.
As AI advances, the laws surrounding AI copyrighting should follow suit. Until then, artists and coders may have to continue dealing with the idea of AI ripping off their original content.