AI Writes Article About AI: Does The Newspaper Hold The Copyright?

from the the-monkey-gets-it dept

For many years, we wrote about the infamous monkey selfie copyright situation (and lawsuit) not just because it was hellishly entertaining, but also because the legal questions underlying the issue were likely to become a lot more important. Specifically, while I don't think anyone is expecting a rush of monkey-authored works to enter the market any time soon, we certainly do expect that works created by computers will be all over the damn place in the very, very near future (and, uh, even the immediate past). Just recently, IBM displayed its "Project Debater" offering, doing an AI-powered realtime debate against a human on the "Intelligence Squared" debates program. A few days after that, the Guardian used OpenAI to write an article about itself, which the Guardian then published (it's embedded about halfway down the fuller article which is written by a real life human, Alex Hern).

In both cases, the output is mostly coherent, with a few quirks. Here's a snippet that shows... both:

This new, artificial intelligence approach could revolutionize machine learning by making it a far more effective tool to teach machines about the workings of the language. Deep-learning systems currently only have the ability to learn something specific; a particular sentence, set of words or even a word or phrase; or what certain types of input (for example, how words are written on a paper) cause certain behaviors on computer screens.

GPT2 learns by absorbing words and sentences like food does at a restaurant, said DeepFakes’ lead researcher Chris Nicholson, and then the system has to take the text and analyze it to find more meaning and meaning by the next layer of training. Instead of learning about words by themselves, the system learns by understanding word combinations, a technique researchers can then apply to the system’s work to teach its own language.

Almost... but not quite.

Anyway, in the ensuing discussion about all this on Twitter, James Green asked the "simple" question of who is the "author" of the piece in question. The answer, summed up by Parker Higgins is:

This is why I think the monkey selfie case was so important. In determining, quite clearly, that creative works need a human author, it suggests that works created by a computer are squarely in the public domain. And while this seems to lead some (mainly lawyers) to freak out. There's this unfortunate assumption that many people (especially lawyers) seem to make: that every creative work must be "owned" under copyright. There is no legal or rational basis for such an argument. We lived for many years in which it was fine that many works entered life and went straight into the public domain, and we shouldn't fear going back to such a world.

This certainly isn't a new question. Pam Samuelson wrote a seminal paper on allocating ownership rights in computer-generated works all the way back in 1985 (go Pam!), but it's an issue that is going to be at the forefront of a number of copyright discussions over the next few years. If you think that various companies, publishers and the like are going to just let those works go into the public domain without a fight, you haven't been paying attention to the copyright wars of the past few decades.

I fully expect that there will be a number of other legal fights, not unlike the monkey selfie case but around AI-generated works, coming in the very near future. Having the successful monkey case in the books is good to start with, as it establishes the (correct) baseline of requiring a human. However, I imagine that we'll see ever more creative attempts to get around that in the courts, and if that fails, a strong push to get Congress to amend the law to magically create copyrights for AI-generated works.

Filed Under: ai, articles, copyright, monkey selfie, ownership, public domain
Companies: guardian, openai

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  1. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 22 Feb 2019 @ 3:01pm


    Why then would we claim that twiddling a few knobs on the AI control panel makes it less of a work by the journalist?

    What if there are no knobs at all, and no journalist either? Someone builds the machine, plugs it in, and it just goes so long as it has power and a network connection. But the creator of the machine only created the ‘seed’ if you will, letting the computer largely program itself based on what it observes over the network. Importantly, it does this in an unpredictable fashion.

    In patents, the rule for some years was for the inventor to have a “flash of genius” to get a patent. In copyright, an author must engage in actual creativity, not mere effort, in creating a work of authorship.

    The key thing to think about in my opinion is Burrow-Giles. There, the Supreme Court permitted photographs to be copyrighted, but did not give the photographer the position of author merely for the effort of opening and closing the shutter. Rather, the creativity necessary to permit a copyright is found in the selection of the subject, posing of the subject, selecting and arranging the subject’s appearance (clothes, etc), selecting and arranging the other elements in the shot (props, backgrounds, etc.), selecting and controlling the appropriate lighting, getting the subject to have the right expression, etc.

    This is why someone other than a mere camera operator can have a copyright on a photo — the author is he who calls the shots, not he who only pushes a button.

    If there happens to be no such person, so be it. The programmer of the computer doesn’t call the shots; he doesn’t know what will happen. Ditto for the button pusher. A typewriter is easy: push E and you get an E. A computer that with a single press of a button outputs a book about a subject the button pusher isn’t familiar with, in a language the button pusher doesn’t know, using facts the button pusher isn’t aware of is no mere typewriter!

    Likewise, the monkey took the photograph (but isn’t an author) rather than the owner of the camera because the photographer lacked control or creative input. The monkey could’ve just as easily taken a different photo, or not smiled. Only if it had been trained to do exactly as commanded — and did — would the photo be entitled to copyright.

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