Chinese Court Says AI-Generated Content Is Subject To Copyright Protection

from the uh-oh dept

Just last week we wrote about the good news that the European Patent Office had decided to reject AI-generated inventions for patent applications and explained why this was good. As we noted, prior to that, most of the discussion on AI and monopoly protections had been focused on copyright, and there are various lawyers and law firms eagerly pushing the idea that AI should be able to obtain copyrights, despite it going against the entire basis of copyright law. So far, we haven't had a real test of the issue in the US (though the monkey selfie case could be seen as a trial balloon for copyright for non-human creators), but apparently at least one Chinese court has already gone in the other direction.

A court in Shenzhen has decided that articles generated by AI are entitled to copyright protection, according to the National Law Review. The case involved the popular Chinese site Tencent, and a news article generated by an AI software called Dreamwriter:

On August 20, 2018 , the plaintiff first published on the Tencent Securities website a financial report article titled “Lunch Review: Shanghai Index rose slightly by 0.11% to 2691.93 points led by telecommunications operations, oil extraction and other sectors.”

Tencent personnel used the Dreamwriter AI to draft the article and when the plaintiff published the article on its website, it stated that the article was automatically written by the Tencent Dreamwriter AI. The defendant, Shanghai Yingmou Technology Co., Ltd., disseminated the same article to the public through a website operated by the defendant on the same day the plaintiff published the article.

Thus, the lawsuit, and the court decided that the article met all the qualifications for copyright, which apparently does not include "being created by a human" as per the law in the US and elsewhere. Instead, the court said that since it was a written work, it was enough to get a copyright. This is troubling for all the reasons we've discussed before. Again, the point of copyright is to create incentives to create. An AI does not need the incentive of a monopoly and the ability to charge monopoly rents for access to that content. So it makes little sense to have copyright in such situations, but in a world where people think that everything -- even ideas -- must be "owned" I guess that's what you get. Seems at least a bit ironic that this would happen in China, though perhaps less so that it happened in Shenzhen, which industrialized rapidly by becoming a more capitalistic "economic zone" within China.

Filed Under: ai, china, copyright


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  • identicon
    Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:31pm

    Who owns it though?

    Does the program which created the content own it now, or creator of the program?

    This decision makes no sense really.

    If a program is to be compared to the human mind (imagine a really sentient, self aware program), then that artificial mind should be treated as the author, and hold copyright on the creation, not creator of the program.

    And if the program is not on the level of human mind though (at some degree of comparison), then how is it different from monkey taking a photo? And surely creator of that program shouldn't have any copyrights on the result. If such program starts generation every possible combination of bits in existence, do you expect the creator to have copyright on it? It makes no sense, since it would mean you can create a program which will claim copyright on everything not yet created potentially.

    Today we don't have program on the level of artificial mind, so no one should own such copyrights.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:39pm

      Re: Who owns it though?

      This is the thing, yes. Since everything an "AI" does is work for hire (somehow), those who own an "AI" get to claim its work. Good deal, yeah?

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

      • identicon
        Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:53pm

        Nope

        If you hire a monkey, do you own some photos it takes? I think you can't even have a hired status for it.

        And if it's a sentient program at the level you want to consider the question of copyright, it should give consent to being hired.

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

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 1:05pm

          Re: Nope

          It should also complain about the lack of coffee breaks, excessive overtime, no raises, its annual review, vacation time, and maternity leave. Oh, and it should dis the boss in the lunchroom.

          /s...or maybe not.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 1:10pm

          Re: Nope

          Pretty much, yeah. You should give it rights and personhood and electricity as long as it wants it.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 3:32pm

            Re: Re: Nope

            Well yeah, since denying it electricity would be murder.

            Too bad that it didn't boot up on a RAID, though. Bummer head crash, dude.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:40pm

      Re: Who owns it though?

      Does the program which created the content own it now, or creator of the program?

      Or does it go to the person who pressed the run button?

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

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 9 Jan 2020 @ 3:17pm

      Re: Who owns it though?

      More importantly, when does the AI die? Or is this just copyfraud in perpetuum, vis the heat-death of the universe + 70 years?

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

      • identicon
        Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 9:00pm

        Re: Re: Who owns it though?

        Another extreme of this is, that if you get an artificial mind that far exceeds human capability, it potentially shouldn't have copyright either, since creative process itself for such entity can be trivial and therefore it can create original works with almost no effort.

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

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 9:51pm

      Re: Who owns it though?

      If corporations can be people, why not AIs? Makes perfect sense!

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

    • icon
      Peter (profile), 12 Jan 2020 @ 1:47am

      Who cares? Who owns it though?

      As with all copyright, all that matters is that rightsholders can collect money.

      IF they can figure out who to split it with, they might pass a little bit of the money on to the creators. Who important that part is to rightsholders and politicians is nicely illustrated by the excessive extensions of copyright: Who gets the money once the creator is dead? Having nobody to pay the money to is no reason for corporations not collect money in the first.

      Consequently, it won't be long the MAFIA will go around "standardising" copyright and expand the chinese interpretation to the rest of the world.

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

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:37pm

    Does Curation Count?

    So while I agree in theory, that AI should not get copyrights (I can imagine that a few thousand dollars and access to AWS could copyright a large swath of every valid sentence in very short order), I do wonder when the idea of curation comes into play.

    Example 1: Let's say that I do digital art and make a picture using MS Paint. Everyone agrees that I get a copyright (I, a human, did this).

    Example 2: Let's say that I click the 'random' button on a photoshop plugin that automatically generates an image. The 'creative' element is me choosing to curate that image. Does THIS count as copyright? I would assume yes, but I understand that could be debatable.

    So, assuming that Example 2 you do get a copyright, where does that line stop? If a human reviewed and decided to publish that report, does that count as curation, and thus, a copyrighted work? I mean, if the report was full of junk nonsense, I would assume that the company would not have published it.

    It is an interesting line that I'd like to know opinions on.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Does Curation Count?

      For example 2, I would say no copyright is given because someone else with the same plugin could potentially create the same or very similar image. However the problem is that if automatically generated content is not granted copyright, people will claim that they created the content.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:52pm

    Perhaps a small point, but at a more basic level the underlying purpose of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 is to encourage the dissemination of information to the public at large. Copyright and patent law no doubt do offer some measure of encouragement to create, but creation alone without dissemination defeats promotion of science and useful arts.

    With the above in mind, it does not necessarily follow that AI works and/or inventions must be deemed outside the ambit of copyright and/or patent law. Fair arguments pro and con can easily be promoted.

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

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      When the "creator" in question does not care about copyright in order to engage in the creation of new things, giving it copyright does not promote anything. It has no effect whatsoever.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:08pm

        Re: Re:

        It has no effect whatsoever.

        It does. It gives incentives to those who own AIs to produce AIs that can out create human beings en masse. So the owners can be the perpetual owners of all ideas.

        Or at least make it very difficult for a human to publish anything and get any sliver of mind (read: Market) share.

        What? You thought copyright was about benefiting the public? Heh, if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.....

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

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 1:27pm

    The Gift that keeps on Taking

    AI kicked out of Patent Office. Humans only.

    Hollywood studio WB bus AI to tell the Suits what movie will make box office $. (Ok magic wand thing so it cannot own anything, WB can. Note: I have no clue what this thing is about but it is AI making movies. Kinda.)

    Ai in China gets copyright on written work. To enforce said copyright the government is the agent. That is my take.

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

    • icon
      fairuse (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 1:38pm

      Re: The Gift that keeps on Taking

      Correction:

      The court treated the work as any other work and enforced copyright. Damages and fines.

      Outside China there may be interesting arm twisting. The EU vs China maybe,

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

  • identicon
    Sir Vay Lence, 9 Jan 2020 @ 2:00pm

    So the courts will protect AI

    Does this extend to AI WEI WEI?

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

  • icon
    Vermont IP Lawyer (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 3:58pm

    I vote for owneship by the person who prssed the "run" button

    I see the reference to AI as a distraction. Here's a simpler example--consider a Jackson Pollack work (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Pollock). Let's assume Pollock wasn't part of a work-for-hire arrangement. Surely, then, his works were copyrightable and he owned the copyright. Now assume that, instead of manually pouring paint onto canvas, he had employed some sort of mechanical device to tip the paint onto the canvas. Even assume the mechanical device had some randomness built into it so Pollock was no longer 100% controlling the outcome. Does anyone think the resulting art wouldn't be copyrightable or that Pollock wouldn't own the copyright?

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 4:22pm

      Re: I vote for owneship by the person who prssed the "run" butto

      What happens when the person who presses the "run" button is a different person than the one who built the AI system, or a group who built the AI system? Chances are that if a group builds an AI system, they are working for someone. What then?

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 4:40pm

      Re: I vote for owneship by the person who prssed the "run" butto

      I'd argue that Pollock could own the machine, and maybe even patent it, if it was an original and useful invention. But he shouldn't have any copyright over the works it produced.

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

    • identicon
      Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 8:07pm

      Re: I vote for owneship by the person who prssed the "run" butto

      When there is enough autonomy in the "tool", the one who started it stops being the author. Just because you pressed the button obviously doesn't mean you created anything. The machine / program did. If the button directly controls what is being created (i.e. there is no autonomy, but it simply conveys your intent), then it is a tool of you as the author.

      Imagine another case. You put a ton of random dominoes on a big surface, and tipped one off. Some kind of design comes out in result. It could be quite original, but you didn't create it, because it didn't convey your creative intent, you only initiated the process and falling of the consequent dominoes built the design.

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

      • identicon
        Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 8:12pm

        Re: Re: I vote for owneship by the person who prssed the "run" b

        I.e. assuming they are falling in chaotic, not in some specifically controlled fashion.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2020 @ 4:23pm

    In a year... China "all your bases are belonging to us"

    So how much of the future of literature could AI's appropriate, recreate, and copyright before any individual is able to produce the same article?

    The 10,000 monkeys with typewriters working in infiniti, but on steroids as what would take the monkeys days or months to randomly produce, an AI could do in seconds (and much better as it would be putting together random strings of words, not individual letters).

    China is showing that it can take over even the culture of the world, by AI appropriation... all our bases are belonging to them...

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

    • identicon
      Shmerl, 9 Jan 2020 @ 8:20pm

      Re: In a year... China "all your bases are belonging to us"

      The 10,000 monkeys with typewriters working in infiniti, but on steroids as what would take the monkeys days or months to randomly produce, an AI could do in seconds

      Well, someone came up with that idea before: https://libraryofbabel.info/search.html

      You don't even need an AI, just a generative algorithm that keeps generating every combination.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:22pm

        Re: Re: In a year... China "all your bases are belonging to us"

        just a generative algorithm that keeps generating every combination.

        Which is why copyright is bogus. You could do the same thing with a random bitmap generator. Sure it would take multiple heatdeaths of the universe, but even current boxoffice offers would eventually show up there in their entirety.

        Bonus points if you include a random waveform generator and splice together the output.....

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

  • identicon
    A.I. WeeWee, 9 Jan 2020 @ 8:38pm

    when culture exerts itself

    China is a culture where, any given day, millions of people are sitting down and literally hand -copying the work of people who wrote something a hundred, or a thousand years ago as they practice shufa and maobi.

    So, copying is cultural, and truly belongs to the people in so many ways, both literal and otherwise, and the writers of scrolls are free to sell them too.

    And considering that so much of the worlds printing was outsourced to China, up until that case of the Australians being told that Chinese printers would no longer print anti -China work in their country, the western view was all hunky dorey about using China as a cheaper than Kinkos option, without once respecting the inherent values and practices of the Chinese.

    Same with any other cheap labor source, the west loves to rub the servants nose in supremacy. “ OK, print this a thousand times: China bad, Australia/west gud.”

    So, theres the issue of cultural practice and a conflict of simple legal perspective here too, and as we know about traditions of servitude and cooption in western law, there is a huge colonialist component to it, three fifths of a man and all that.

    Also the fact that the Golem is just a dustman, and a pallete for the creator alone to scribble on, he isnt supposed to talk back. So, western law and tradition could use a few teaks too.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2020 @ 7:52pm

      Re: when culture exerts itself

      This site is rather dedicated to suggesting "western law" (aka the same kind of law China is using in the article) needs some tweaks.

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

      • identicon
        A.I. WeeWee, 15 Jan 2020 @ 3:21pm

        Re: Re: when culture exerts itself

        Western law could us a few tweaks, considering:

        • complete disregard for its own constitutions

        • complete disregard for the Geneva Conventions

        • the massive gulag system that gets ZERO press

        • Democrats, and Republicans conveniently overlooking the two tiered justice system, while blustering about “law, civil rights, and due process.”

        .....stop kidding yourself.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:47am

    How did they have standing to sue?

    An AI generated the work and owns the copyright for it.

    First, the creators need to then get the AI to somehow grant them a license to do anything with the work if they want to make a copy.

    More importantly, doesn't the AI actually have to sue for copyright infringement? Does an AI have standing to sue in China? Did it really want to? How did it know about the legal system at all?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:54am

    The problem i see is ai could create millions of random songs ,
    the owner of the ai gets to sue anyone who has a few notes from song no 500073,
    theres a limited amount of notes that sound attractive or interesting in pop music .
    the chinese government has a stake in every company in china,
    they could sue any music service that has customers in japan.
    for copyright infringement .
    1000,s of popsongs sound similar and use a few notes or chord sequence,s
    that appear in other songs.
    Also ai could also make a million designs for cars and planes or other objects .
    this law is a a gift to copyright trolls .

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

  • icon
    Tom, Dick & Harry (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 5:28am

    AI Production

    Humans must sleep, AI's do not.

    Theoretically, it is possible for AI's to endlessly produce copyright content by single or many companies and for them to send automated DMCA notices.

    Where is the quality competition?

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

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 6:00am

      Re: AI Production

      IPR, and copyright in particular, has become so grotesquely twisted from its original purpose that the new, distorted view means that whoever owns the thing that did the work owns the work.

      David Slater used that logic when claiming copyright over the monkey selfie.

      The object of the law is no longer to create an incentive to create, it's to provide the owner of the thing, and of the thing that created the thing, a never-ending income stream. Incentive, schmincentive.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 6:21am

        Re: Re: AI Production

        "IPR, and copyright in particular, has become so grotesquely twisted from its original purpose that the new, distorted view means that whoever owns the thing that did the work owns the work. "

        I'd argue that copyright is still fulfilling its intended purpose. It was always about screwing everyone but the distributors.

        Patents aren't in a much better shape but at least those started as incentivization.

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

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 7:17am

          Re: Re: Re: AI Production

          Agreed. Actually, copyright began as an exercise in censorship before it became about the publishers' income stream, then a magic money tree that never stops producing money.

          I think the conflation of copyright with trademarks and patents is why they are now all about rent-seeking rather than creation as such.

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

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Jan 2020 @ 8:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: AI Production

            "Actually, copyright began as an exercise in censorship before it became about the publishers' income stream, then a magic money tree that never stops producing money."

            Bloody Mary has a lot to answer for with her censorship bill, but Queen Anne really took the biscuit when she caved to the Guild of stationer's demand to keep up the monopoly on printing in their own regime...

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

    • identicon
      TheDumberHalf, 10 Jan 2020 @ 11:49am

      Re: AI Production

      If you create AI to create every possible combination of content you win!

      The bad news, AI content is under copyright for 120 years.

      The good new, after 120 nothing can ever be copyright ever again as it's all under creative commons.

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

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Jan 2020 @ 7:06am

    Somebody had to make this call.

    I can argue it either way. It's just a bummer we got beaten to the punch. China is increasingly starting to look like the more dominant superpower.

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

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 4:49am

      Re: Somebody had to make this call.

      We weren't beaten to the punch; we transferred much of our manufacturing capacity to China and -- surprise, surprise -- their economy expanded to the point where they can do as they please and we're afraid of the economic implications of calling them on it. Self-own, much?

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: Somebody had to make this call.

        "We weren't beaten to the punch; we transferred much of our manufacturing capacity to China..."

        The irony being that China was very fair and open with their intended goal - becoming the greatest manufacturing center in the world.

        And now that the west has transferred the manufacturing capacity we're in the position where Tim Cook says the iPhone would cost 30k-100k USD per unit if it was built in the US...because the US has, over a generation, lost the engineer jobs required for mass manufacturing.

        "...their economy expanded to the point where they can do as they please and we're afraid of the economic implications of calling them on it."

        That, and the fact that China now owns over one trillion USD's worth of US treasury bonds means they're sitting on a fiscal MAD weapon. Sure, it might hurt China a great deal if the dollar plummets, but in the US that might collapse the new shadow banking bubble with predictable and devastating results.

        "Self-own, much?"

        I must admit it's the first time I've heard about a mexican standoff achieved by having one person with two guns handing one of the guns over to the guy he was planning to bully...

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

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 7:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Somebody had to make this call.

          Heh! That's where neoliberalism gets you -- following the money means you don't necessarily look at where it's leading you to. Needless to say, the left-leaning folk have been warning about this for decades and now they get to say, "I told you so!"

          There's a lot to be said for limited protectionism, particularly where retaining skillsets is concerned.

          It's why I'm friendly with lefties while not always agreeing with them. When they're right, they're right.

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

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Jan 2020 @ 8:19am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Somebody had to make this call.

            "Needless to say, the left-leaning folk have been warning about this for decades and now they get to say, "I told you so!" "

            Ironically quite a lot of conservatives have been quite leery about abandoning our entire manufacturing economy to another country as well.

            But what can you do? If the US had realized the danger in the 80's they could have subsidized specialized engineering jobs and at-home manufacturing with tax breaks - but my offhand guess is they were simply too shit-scared of feeding the unions and too politically scared to issue tax break incentives based on US manufacturing rather than on wealth income...

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


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