There Is An Easy Answer To Whether Machines Should Get Copyright Rights And It Comes Down To Copyright's Purpose

from the promote-the-progress dept

As the march of progress of robotics and artificial intelligence continues on, it seems that questions of the effects of this progress will only increase in number and intensity. Some of these questions are very good. What effect will AI have on employment? What safeguards should be put in place to neuter AI and robotics and keep humankind the masters in this relationship? These are questions soon to break through the topsoil of science fiction and into the sunlight of reality and we should all be prepared with answers to them.

Other questions are less useful and, honestly, far easier to answer. One that continues to pop up every now and again is whether machines and AI that manage some simulacrum of creativity should be afforded copyright rights. It's a question we've answered before, but which keeps being asked aloud with far too much sincerity.

This isn't just an academic question. AI is already being used to generate works in music, journalism and gaming, and these works could in theory be deemed free of copyright because they are not created by a human author. This would mean they could be freely used and reused by anyone and that would be bad news for the companies selling them. Imagine you invest millions in a system that generates music for video games, only to find that music isn't protected by law and can be used without payment by anyone in the world.

Unlike with earlier computer-generated works of art, machine learning software generates truly creative works without human input or intervention. AI is not just a tool. While humans program the algorithms, the decision making – the creative spark – comes almost entirely from the machine.

Let's get the easy part out of the way: the culminating sentence in the quote above is not true. The creative spark is not the artistic output. Rather, the creative spark has always been known as the need to create in the first place. This isn't a trivial quibble, either, as it factors into the simple but important reasoning for why AI and machines should certainly not receive copyright rights on their output.

That reasoning is the purpose of copyright law itself. Far too many see copyright as a reward system for those that create art rather than what it actually was meant to be: a boon to an artist to compensate for that artist to create more art for the benefit of the public as a whole. Artificial intelligence, however far progressed, desires only what it is programmed to desire. In whatever hierarchy of needs an AI might have, profit via copyright would factor either laughably low or not at all into its future actions. Future actions of the artist, conversely, are the only item on the agenda for copyright's purpose. If receiving a copyright wouldn't spur AI to create more art beneficial to the public, then copyright ought not to be granted.

To be fair to the Phys.org link above, it ultimately reaches the same conclusion.

The most sensible move seems to follow those countries that grant copyright to the person who made the AI's operation possible, with the UK's model looking like the most efficient. This will ensure companies keep investing in the technology, safe in the knowledge they will reap the benefits. What happens when we start seriously debating whether computers should be given the status and rights of people is a whole other story.

Except for two things. First, seriously debating the rights of computers compared with people is exactly what the post is doing by giving oxygen to the question of whether computers ought to get one of those rights in copyright benefits. Second, the EU's method isn't without flaw, either. Again, we're talking about the purpose being the ultimate benefit to the public in the form of more artistic output, but the EU's way of doing things divorces artistic creation from copyright. Instead, it awards copyright to the creator of the creator, which might spur more output of more AI creators, but how diverse of an artistic output is the public going to receive from an army of AI? We might be able to have a legitimate argument here, but there is a far simpler solution.

Machines don't get copyright, nor do their creators. Art made by enslaved AI is art to be enjoyed by all.


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  • icon
    rw (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 7:45am

    "Future actions of the artist, conversely, are the only item on the agenda for copyright's purpose. If receiving a copyright wouldn't spur AI to create more art beneficial to the public, then copyright ought not to be granted."

    This statement shows AI should get copyrights because how many artists continue to create 70 years after their death?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 8:14am

    What happens when...

    I've always liked reductio ad absurdum. A person creates an I to churn out 'poems' of a small length and copyrights these 'poems'. Given a sizeable amount of computing, this person may be able to encompass the entirety of all logical sentences of a given language. More people see what is occurring and jump on the same 'create it all' bandwagon, which would throw more computing power and thus create more of these 'poems', essentially copyrighting an entire language.

    Would this open up a new form of trolling where the creators of these pacts could sue any author of any creative work for 'plagiarism' given that these 'poems' are just sentences that have already been written and are owned by a few of these AI-Language Squatters?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 8:34am

      Re: What happens when...

      You hit on what I was thinking. It seems to me that the first thing and AI intended to create copyrightable works would need to know what is already copyrighted to prevent plagiarism, sampling, or use of already copyrighted visuals*. Then, teaching that system how to differentiate between those things that are copyrighted and those things that have or are moving into the public domain**. Then, from those things in the public domain, not making a copy of some famous (or even not famous) piece and trying to copyright it again as a new creation***.

      * It's not like the owners of copyright have an absolute methodology of recognizing those things they own a copyright on, or even a comprehensive list of all copyrighted things.

      ** Which assumes that there will ever be a public domain again.

      *** What will prevent the machine from creating a 22nd century Mona Lisa or a Last Supper, or one of Beethoven's symphonies, or a 'newly created' The Count of Monte Cristo?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 9:56am

        Re: Re: What happens when...

        It seems to me that the first thing and AI intended to create copyrightable works would need to know what is already copyrighted to prevent plagiarism, sampling, or use of already copyrighted visuals

        They could do that. Or they could go down the opposite route and specifically prevent the AI from gaining any information about already existing works, such that the AI could then use independent creation as a defense against claims of copyright infringement brought against it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:10am

          Re: Re: Re: What happens when...

          I seem to remember some instances of simultaneous creation being argued. Those devolved into the first to file (stake the claim) arguments, though those might have been patent issues.

          There is also the concept that not knowing a law is no excuse (except in the case of law enforcement officials, it seems) then it might be that because there is a claim of no knowledge it is OK, but that has been argued in some cases of sampling and it was difficult to prove that no knowledge existed. How does one prove a negative? Will the owners of the proprietary AI software open the source code up for inspection in order to prove the lack of knowledge? I doubt it.

          It would be better to leave copyright to human creativity, as in the case of that stupid monkey that PETA is trying to 'represent', or more accurately use for their own benefit.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 1:23pm

      Re: What happens when...

      The only real solution is to eliminate copyright. Its original purpose is unnecessary today.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 1:46pm

      Re: What happens when...

      Ohhhh. Greeting cards.

      Wait, those aren't AI?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 5:39pm

        Re: Re: What happens when...

        no, no they are not. AI by it's very nature has the ability to analyze information given to it and generate something in response. A greeting card can not do either of those.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 6:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: What happens when...

          I think he was referring to the creation of greeting cards.

          If birthday, say age (or not), say something funny, say something else.

          If illness, say something conciliatory, say something uplifting.

          etc.

          The difference between greeting cards, and writing an expressive, heartfelt note might just be the difference between creativity of humans vs AI.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 9:33am

    Better be careful, Tim Geitner. An AI might just take offense to you offending them and Skynet might take up arms and come after you. :rotfl:

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 9:46am

    Just a thought, but if the AI is awarded the copyright, the work cannot be copied by others until the AI can also understand and sign either a work for hire contract, or a copyright transfer contract.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 9:54am

    Purpose of copyright

    That's the big issue today - most see it as making money, and the work is merely the means to that end. They do NOT see it as enriching the public - they only care about the public as far as getting their money. If the public doesn't have any money, they don't care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:03am

    Artificial intelligence, however far progressed, desires only what it is programmed to desire.

    Regardless of how complex the code, machines don't desire anything. They evaluate variables based on defined criteria and run more code based on the results of that evaluation. The key part of "artificial intelligence" isn't "intelligence", it's "artificial."

    I honestly don't understand human kind's incessant need to anthropomorphize absolutely everything. Only humans have human desires and needs. Stop attributing those wants and needs to inorganic objects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:18am

      Re:

      I always felt that one of the (long term, less pragmatic) goals of AI research was to find the point at which a set of rules and instructions hits the complexity at which it does have something that's crossed the line into actual desires and self-awareness. I.e., to find the limits of what we can call a machine (such as our own meat-machines).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:32am

      Re:

      They evaluate variables based on defined criteria and run more code based on the results of that evaluation.

      Sure. And humans may or may not do this as well, the question is still wide open on that topic.

      A good fraction of those in psychology/neurology subscribe to schools of thought wherein neural activity is a deterministic chemical/electrical phenomenon which gives rise to what we consider "human desires and needs" through a deterministic process far too complicated for us to model as of now, but otherwise similar to computing.

      On the other hand, mind-body duality is still an active school of thought in psychology (and to some extent neurology), and of those who think the mind is entirely physical several have put forth suggestions that significant portions of neural activity are based in quantum level probabilistic effects and therefore not deterministic in the same sense as silicon computing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:06am

    computers

    look at it from the other direction. when i turn my computer off at night, it's dead. that means that the 'life+70 years' start counting the '+70' part the first time its turned off (or rebooted)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 6:00pm

      Re: computers

      Not entirely true, even when off a computer still receives electricity. That why the power button for electronics is a line going through a circle; it represents a sort of standby mode instead of an actual off state. So "turning your computer off" is more comparable to putting the computer in a coma.

      Also, by your logic when the computer is off it's "dead". That being said, the computer in an on state would be 'alive'. You would extend the copyright every time you turn on the computer by this logic.

      Either way, you've made a catch 22 and/or a Schrödinger's cat type situation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:19am

    Imagine you invest millions in a system that generates music for video games, only to find that music isn't protected by law and can be used without payment by anyone in the world.

    If you didn't research the law before investing millions, you're a fool. And if the copyright goes to the AI, how does that help those who invested in the system?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:38am

      Re:

      More importantly, if you're generating music for video games it's likely that most of your sales will come from one-off work-for-hire contracts with the producers of said video games. Meaning that most of the time you won't hold the copyright anyway, and even when you do most of your revenue will come from the initial sale of the music to the game producer rather than follow on sales to others. No music copyright is really necessary for your business model...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:39am

    Does a Spirograph get the copyright on the drawing that it produces? Or should the inventor of the Spirograph get it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:47am

    Tools versus Artists

    If an AI is just an advanced tool, then the copyright belongs to the person who wielded it, which is the programmer if there is no actual artist switching the AI on and commanding it to create.

    If the toolmaker can claim copyright though, expect to see paintbrush manufacturers claiming ownership of painted portraits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:58am

      Re: Tools versus Artists

      Well, if you look at the license for Microsoft home and student products, Microsoft are effectively claiming copyright on the products of their tools, and licensing the creator for private use only.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 10:59am

    Copyrights purpose is to help me develop huge stacks of cash on the backs of stary eyed developers and startups that don't have the financials to fend off one of my legal shakedowns!

    fuck all ya'll

    Sincerely,

    ~The Middle Men

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 11:31am

    Similar to the monkey selfie

    Thanks to the doublethink required to believe in "intellectual property", there is a significant percentage of people that simply cannot comprehend the concept of public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 11:42am

    since when do creators need copyright?

    follow the money, the true purpose of copyright is obviously to incentivize lobby groups and we don't have any A.I. lobby groups, so A.I.s do need copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stan (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 11:50am

    RE: Similar to the monkey selfie

    Giving copyright ownership to AI will prove to be a slippery slope.

    Because once AI's are granted these rights, then surely monkeys will be demanding them next.

    After that...invertebrates?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 12:01pm

    "there is a far simpler solution"
    Not only does your simple solution face you with the unenviable task of determining exactly where the line is for what is program output and what is A.I. creation but if anyone actually could define that line it would also create a chilling effect against A.I. uses by content businesses who would lose their copyright if they used A.I. in their content generation programs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 12:11pm

    Premised on lunatics who believe in "AI", that it's at all close, or that rational persons will extend copyright to a machine.

    Those aren't going to happen, so triply unnecessary piece.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 12:24pm

      Re: Premised on lunatics who believe in "AI", that it's at all close, or that rational persons will extend copyright to a machine.

      If I had a dollar for every law that was created that rational persons wouldn't have done I could retire

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 5:48pm

      Re: Premised on lunatics who believe in "AI", that it's at all close, or that rational persons will extend copyright to a machine.

      Your "rational persons" are busy extending copyright to a monkey.

      It's pretty clear that the persons you want to believe are rational are anything but.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ben (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 12:20pm

    The future!

    I, for one, would prefer to grant our future robot/AI overlords whatever rights they feel entitled to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 1:43pm

    it awards copyright to the creator of the creator

    aka some "rights holder". Nothing new here.

    Does it really matter if they rip off an artist, the artists children or a computer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Professor Ronny, 7 Jul 2017 @ 2:48pm

    "Instead, it awards copyright to the creator of the creator"

    So, can I copyright my son makes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2017 @ 2:52pm

    "Far too many see copyright as a reward system for those that create art rather than what it actually was meant to be: a boon to an artist to compensate for that artist to create more art for the benefit of the public as a whole."

    The point associated with "far too many" is actually much closer to the purpose of copyright as contemplated by the Constitution than is the point associated with "actually was meant to be".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Killercool (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 3:27pm

      Re:

      Ok. Once again:

      The letter of the law ALWAYS trumps any (misguided) arguments about the spirit in which it was written. Especially when it's right there at the beginning of the Copyright Clause.

      "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 4:53pm

    the plan to end all copyright

    Under the premise that AI can own copyrights...

    1. Make an AI run on a computer to generate all possible works. Image, text, whatever...

    2. Shoot a bullet in the computer. (First check that killing an AI doesn't count as murder. You never with those lawmakers.)

    3. Wait for 70 years. As the AI owns every copyright, except that of works created before itself, nobody is going to ask for copyright extension on its behalf.

    4. Everything is now public domain.

    (Note that this is not to be taken seriously. Seems obvious to me, but some people seem to have a seriously broken sarcasm-meter.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 7 Jul 2017 @ 9:48pm

    It comes down to copyright's purpose?

    Uh, where have you been the last hundred years? That's not a consideration in active use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    frank87 (profile), 8 Jul 2017 @ 3:38am

    It's even easier...

    AI's aren't humans, whithout human needs(food, shelter, family). So they can't pay fines, won't be troubled with jail time, and even Texas won't put any in the electric chair.

    They don't fit in human law, don't try for opportunistic reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 8 Jul 2017 @ 9:37am

    Far too many see copyright as a reward system for those that create art rather than what it actually was meant to be...

    Yes, everyone knows that copyright is a tool to ensure corporate profits. Ask anyone in Washington or the copyright industry and they'll tell you that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 9 Jul 2017 @ 8:30pm

    Real Simple

    Instead of publishing a work direct from the AI's mouth, have a human "tweak" the result before publishing. Human alteration counts as a creative work subject to copyright..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2017 @ 3:03pm

    Late to the party, so I doubt this this will ever be read.

    As noted in the article, UK law gives the rights to the person that set up the machine, and from memory, sets a fixed time (no life +70). It doesn't seem like a terrible system (although copyrights should have a much shorter duration, no statutory minimum damages and more exceptions). If AI gets to the point of getting it's own rights we can think about an update to give the machine it's own rights then. That probably needs machines to be recognised as cognisant legal persons and at the moment pigs are further forward in the queue.

    One thing that gave me pause was the idea of a "Shakespeare's Monkey" computer that churns ou copyright works. On reflection, UK law already has the answer. A copyright claim needs to show copying, so a huge database of dross with a few gems will struggle to show that the gems were copied.

    That doesn't address trolling, but the UK’s fee shifting by default does go some way to addressing the trolling problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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