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Artificial Inspiration? Style Execution by AI Obviates Human Authorship

The US Copyright Office Review Board rejected a request to register artwork made using an artificial intelligence (AI) painting application, finding that the applicant “exerted insufficient creative control” over the application’s creation of the work. Second Request for Reconsideration for Refusal to Register SURYAST (Copyright Review Board, Dec. 11, 2023) (Wilson, Gen. Counsel; Strong, Associate Reg. of Copyrights; Gray, Asst. Gen. Counsel).

Ankit Sahni filed an application to register a claim for a two-dimensional artwork titled “SURYAST.” The work was generated by inputting a photograph Sahni had taken into an AI painting app called “RAGHAV.” Sahni describes RAGHAV as an “AI-powered tool” that uses machine learning to “generate an image with the same content as a base image, but with the style of a chosen picture.” In this case, Sahni took a photograph of a sunset and applied the style of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night to generate the image at issue:

In the application, Sahni listed himself as the author of “photograph, 2-D artwork” and RAGHAV as the author of “2-D artwork.” Because the application identified an AI app as an author, the Copyright Office registration specialist assigned to the application requested additional information about Sahni’s use of RAGHAV in the creation of the work. After considering the additional information, the Copyright Office refused to register the work because it “lack[ed] the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.”

Sahni requested that the Copyright Office reconsider its initial refusal to register the work, arguing that “the human authorship requirement does not and cannot mean a work must be created entirely by a human author.” Sahni noted that in this case, the AI required several human inputs such as selecting and creating the base image, selecting the style image and selecting a variable value that determined the strength of the style transfer. He argued that the decisions he made in generating SURYAST were sufficient to make him the author of the work, which meant that the work was the product of human authorship and therefore eligible for copyright protection. Sahni minimized the role of RAGHAV, calling it an “assistive tool” that merely “mechanically” applies “colors, shapes and styles, as directed.”

The Board disagreed, finding that Sahni’s input to RAGHAV was insufficient to make SURYAST a product of human authorship. The Board reasoned that while Sahni did provide the original image and selected the style and a “variable value determining the amount of style transfer,” Sahni was not actually responsible for “determining how to interpolate the base and style images in accordance with the style transfer value.” Furthermore, Sahni did not control where the stylistic elements would be placed, what elements of the input image would appear in the output or what colors would be applied. The Board [...]

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Not Today, HAL: Copyright Still Requires Human Input

The US Copyright Office (USCO) issued a policy statement on March 16, 2023, clarifying its position on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in copyrighted materials. This statement came in the wake of the USCO’s recent decision to revoke partial copyright protection over AI-generated images in a graphic novel.

The USCO had previously issued copyright registration to Kris Kashtanova for a graphic novel. Upon learning that the images had been generated using Midjourney, an AI that produces images based on text prompts, the USCO revoked copyright protection over the images consisting of mixed text and images. Zarya of the Dawn, Registration No. VAu001480196 (USCO, Feb. 21, 2023) (Kasunic, Asso. Register of Copr.)

The USCO explained that the images lacked the requisite “minimum creative spark” required to make the images copyrightable. The USCO further emphasized that a human author with ultimate creative control is necessary for copyright protection and that providing an AI with word prompts is insufficient to qualify. Therefore, the copyright registration for the images in Kashtanova’s novel was revoked. However, because the work consisted of images and text and the text was all written by Kashtanova, that aspect of the work did satisfy the requirements for copyright protection and retained its registration. The USCO did allow that if Kashtanova could exhibit “substantive edits” to an AI-generated image, those edits could prove human authorship and therefore qualify the image for copyright protection.

In its March 16 policy statement, the USCO reiterated that non-humans are firmly excluded from authorship and, therefore, solely AI generated works are ineligible for copyright registration. Applicants should not list AIs as authors, but authors do have a duty to disclose the use of AI in their work and provide an explanation of their own human contribution compared to that of the AI. The USCO explained that the use of AI tools does not necessarily exclude a work from copyright registration. The salient issue in such cases would be the extent of creative control that the human author had over the work and its creative expression. As long as the human-made modifications to the AI-generated work meet the “minimum creative spark” requirement, such works could be subject to copyright protection.

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