AI-generated works of art and their ownership and enforcement of related rights have remained among the most controversial issues in copyright law around the world as we entered 2023.
As in many fields, AI has begun to play a direct role in the legal industry. Indeed, the media eagerly followed the hearing in which an AI application developed by the company DoNotPay in the United States (US) was introduced as "the first robot lawyer" in the press that can provide legal assistance by conveying legal arguments to defendants via headphones. However, the hearing was postponed due to the State Bar Prosecutors’ warnings regarding the use of such technology in court.
Although no sufficiently comprehensive judgments on AI and copyright law have been rendered in Türkiye or elsewhere, the general rule appears to be that an AI programme cannot have rights to the works it creates and that only human creativity can be protected within the framework of copyright protection.
In fact, Stephen Thaler, who works in the field of AI technologies, filed an application in the US for the registration of work generated by an AI and demanded the identification of the AI as the author of the work. However, in its decision dated 14 February 14 2022, the US Copyright Office rejected the application stating that the relevant application did not meet the “human authorship” requirement for a valid copyright claim.
On the other hand, on 15 September 2022 a copyright application filed in the US for a comic book featuring AI-generated drawings was accepted. However, after it was discovered that the illustrations were generated by artificial intelligence, the Office cancelled the registration due to “a failure to exclude non-human authorship contained in the work." The drawings generated by AI were excluded from the scope of the registration on that basis, and copyright protection was granted only in relation to the text, selection, coordination, and arrangement of text created by the author.
In this regard, it should be emphasized that current regulations prohibit copyright ownership of AI and the copyright registration/protection of works generated by AI appear to be rather challenging.
As AI began to generate works that are deemed to be the product of creativity and intelligence, discussions on the potential violations of rights by AI have also recently emerged. This situation was described as a "double-edged sword" by the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s “Study on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Infringement and Enforcement of Copyright and Designs” 4, published in March 2022. In other words, AI may be used to violate rights while also strengthening notions of ownership and the protection of rights.
Indeed, there is currently a lawsuit pending in Canada alleging that an AI-created image infringes the copyright of another work5. Similarly, lawsuits for copyright infringement have also been filed against AI applications such as Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, which are used to generate visuals from text prompts.6 On the other hand, platforms such as Getty Images, a stock photography agency, has banned AI-generated works from their website in order to avoid inadvertent copyright infringement. They determined suspected works via users’ notifications and filters co-created with the C2PA (Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity). These concrete examples demonstrate that AI technology may well infringe on rights.
In this context, while legal regulations and/or judicial decisions effectively clarifying the place of AI in relation to copyright ownership and violations are yet to be encountered, it is clear that this issue will continue to be heavily debated in the coming years given the speed and significance of the technology’s development.