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Robert Spoo: Can you copyright the works of artificial intelligence or monkys or angels? The legal system is still trying to figure that out – Tulsa World

The University of Tulsa is planning a conference on artificial intelligence, creativity and copyright for the fall 2020 semester. AI has always been a simmering issue, but it’s become a truly hot topic since computer programmers have developed software that can compose new music, produce new paintings and write new novels, all without the direct aid of humans.Programs like, ChucK, MorpheuS, and AIVA (Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist) can variously compose music and perform soundtracks that are novel and sometimes amazingly appealing. AIVA, created in Luxembourg, was fed thousands of known compositions by Beethoven, Mozart and other human composers, and was then programmed to detect patterns in this vast archive and to generate new compositions based on the rules of classical music. The result? New, AI-generated compositions called “Symphonic Fantasy in A minor, Opus 21, Genesis” or “Aiva Opus 32 for Piano Four Hands.” AI-generated music has been recognized by music societies and has been performed in public concerts.AI can write novels, too. In 2017, Ross Goodwin drove from New York to New Orleans with a laptop AI program equipped with sensors, GPS, a camera to pick up scenery as it flew by, and a microphone for conversations in the car. Goodwin had previously loaded the program with millions of words of poetry, science fiction, and other writing; and the machine spat out rolls of paper with sentences that were strung together as a novel, “1 the Road.” The prose style weirdly evokes, without copying, Jack Kerouac’s famous 1957 “beat” novel, “On the Road.” The publisher of “1 the Road” boasted that “the first gonzo Artificial Neural Network is a genius writer.”

Obvious is an AI program created in Paris for autonomously producing new artworks. The program was fed thousands of existing works of art and was designed to paint new ones. By means of a discriminator feature, it can also determine if the outputs will pass for human-created art. One generated piece—a portrait of what looks like an 18th-century gentleman, possibly French—sold at a New York auction house in 2018 for more than $400,000.Is a new AIVA piano piece or an Obvious canvas authored by a human? The software that allows for these outputs was undoubtedly created by flesh-and-blood people. This means that the software can receive copyright protection under U.S. law, which requires a human creator for any protectable work of authorship, even corporate works.But what about AI-outputs spontaneously generated by that software? The output is not directly authored by a human, unless (as sometimes happens) a human tweaks or reworks the output afterwards. U.S. copyright law will not protect an output that involves no direct human creativity. A federal appeals court recently held that selfies taken by a monkey (a crested black macaque) did not qualify as copyrighted photographs, though People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed the lawsuit to protect the macaque’s alleged legal interests. Even if a human had set up the conditions for the macaque to snap the selfies (compare this to the software programs created to make AI music possible), the output — photographs of a monkey taken by a monkey — could not be copyrighted. The U.S. Copyright Office agrees with this position.

What happens when angels author sacred texts? Here, too, we have a nonhuman author generating a work that, had it been created by a mere mortal, would get the benefit of copyright. Copyright law, with its flexible licensing, has been an important tool for American religions, but it also poses difficulties for claims of faith. If founding scriptures are truths revealed by golden plates (Mormonism) or angelic “midwayers” (Urantia), U.S. copyright law might deny protection to such otherworldly productions.When it comes to copyright litigation, religious organizations are sometimes forced to pick their poison: maintain the origin story of divine authorship and potentially lose copyright or concede the role of human creativity and salvage copyright in a hybrid holy book. For example, copyright might be saved if religious officials argue, as the Urantia Foundation did in 1990s litigation, that human scribes arranged and coordinated angelic messages so as to produce protectable compilations of eternal truths.AI, angels and macaques. Copyright law draws its lines, and human lawyers (not yet AI-generated) try to color outside them with ingenious arguments. Maybe U.S. legislators will expand the notion of copyright authorship to include nonhuman creativity. AI-generated works will likely receive legislative attention before angels and simians do. But who knows?Robert Spoo is the Chapman Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa and and 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. He is a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.Featured video:

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