Computer scientist says AI 'artist' deserves its own copyrights

Semiconductor chips are seen on a circuit board of a computer in this illustration picture taken February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lo
  • Stephen Thaler seeks to overturn ruling rejecting AI art copyright
  • Thaler has previously lost bids for patents on AI-created inventions

(Reuters) - Computer scientist Stephen Thaler on Tuesday asked a Washington, D.C., federal court to rule that his artificial intelligence system is entitled to copyrights for art it created.

Seeking a pre-trial win in a lawsuit he filed last June, Thaler asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to overturn a U.S. Copyright Office decision that said creative works must be made by humans to receive copyright protection.

Thaler's case is one of the first over copyrights in AI-created works and coincides with the fast rise of AI-based generation software like ChatGPT, Dall-E and Lensa. His attorney Ryan Abbott of Brown Neri Smith & Khan told Reuters on Wednesday that there is a "real financial importance to this case" that "might not have been so readily apparent a year and a half ago."

Abbott also said protecting AI-created art would promote the goals of copyright law, and that it will "seem odd that people were wondering if we should protect these sorts of things" a decade from now.

The Copyright Office declined to comment.

Thaler has separately fought to obtain patents on behalf of his AI-invention system in 18 global jurisdictions. That effort has so far been unsuccessful in the U.S., UK, European Union and Australia. A UK Supreme Court hearing on Thaler's dispute there is set for March.

Thaler applied in 2018 for a copyright covering "A Recent Entrance to Paradise," a visual artwork made autonomously by his Creativity Machine system. Thaler's application named the system itself as the work's creator.

The office rejected the application last February and said works must have human creators to be copyrightable, citing "statutory text, judicial precedent, and longstanding Copyright Office practice."

"Courts interpreting the Copyright Act, including the Supreme Court, have uniformly limited copyright protection to creations of human authors," the office said.

Thaler said in his Tuesday federal court filing that the Copyright Act "does not restrict copyright to human-made works, nor does any case law," and that the office's ruling was based on outdated precedent.

"The fact that various courts have referred to creative activity in human-centric terms, based on the fact that creativity has traditionally been human-centric and romanticized, is very different than there being a legal requirement for human creativity," Thaler's filing said.

The case is Thaler v. Perlmutter, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-01564.

For Thaler: Ryan Abbott of Brown Neri Smith & Khan

For the U.S. Copyright Office: Jenna Munnelly of the U.S. Department of Justice

Read more:

U.S. scientist hits another dead end in patent case over AI 'inventor'

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com