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. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 22 Feb 2019 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    but you argue that it will happen. You made a statement. Therefore, we want to understand the reasoning you use behind your statement about what logic the court will use.

    I realize you think the SCOTUS just declares things and doesn't have an underlying reasoning (See commentary on the Aereo Case). I realize you assume malice in every decision you disagree with (See claims of explicit intent of harm in libertarian ideals). I realize you simultaneously distrust the Judiciary to act in any fashion but in full throated support of big business to the detriment of everyone else while advocating the Judiciary should be declaring businesses to be micro-governments because then the Judiciary can hold businesses accountable.

    But with all due respect, that does not absolve you of the need to explain your thought process entirely. If you just hand wave that it all falls under the looks like a duck standard, I could have accepted that.

    But you comments seem to contradict other recent rulings in this court on copyright, and if you want to make such a bombastic statement, yeah. We'd like to know how you think, in the multi page ruling they reconcile the various issues of content creation that conflict within such a declaration.

    Work for hire requires either employment or an explicit contract between the freelance creator (who could be argued to be the person who coded the AI, the person who trained the AI, or the person who pressed the create button), and the person who is hiring for the work. Now you clearly assume the employee or freelance creator is the person who pressed the 'do' button, that that act is analogous to pressing the button on a camera. And that is a basic arguement. But that leaves the coder and trainer without any copyright in the output of their AI, whose output is based on their actions and decisions. It could be argued that either one of them should have a stake, as they do not nessisarily contract with the individual or individuals (including corporations) that are hiring the work. And that leads to more questions in interactive media streaming and other areas of copyright law.

    And though you don't advocate for this to be the way of things, you claim you think it will be the position of the court, which means you think you know how these briefings will go, how the justices will answer these questions, which would come up in briefing and arguments, in their final ruling.

    Oh, right. You think findings of the court are just Lorem Ipsum and that the final judgement has no relation to the facts or the information presented to the judges, and therefore the rulings are largely just whatever makes corporations happy. And yet, you continue to support the judiciary declaring businesses governments so the judiciary can enforce a ban on deplatforming, despite being bought off by big business.


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