back to article US Copyright Office sued for denying AI model authorship of digital image

The US Copyright Office and its director Shira Perlmutter have been sued for rejecting one man's request to register an AI model as the author of an image generated by the software. You guessed correct: Stephen Thaler is back. He said the digital artwork, depicting railway tracks and a tunnel in a wall surrounded by multi- …

  1. Conundrum1885

    AI rights

    Actually I am all for machines to be given rights proportional to their level of awareness.

    Its on my manifesto, though it also mentions Asimov's Three Laws being essential.

    The biggest problem as in many cases is prejudice, where those in power are afraid to lose

    that power to "a box of wires" or some other derogatory term.

    As it happens, this is absolutely relevant eg to the Post Office fiasco, where a computer

    system had fatal flaws that led to hundreds of wrongful convictions for fraud and theft.

    Even those running the system weren't aware just how flawed it was.

    Posting this in the clear because it is morally wrong to stand by and do nothing when the

    UK Government has the power to grant full compensation and take control of the F-S board

    to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI rights

      By your standards, it is not the fault of the F-S board. Instead of taking over the board, the UK government should arrest the computer itself and put it on trial. If convicted the hardware and software should be put into prison. Job done. Justice served.

      There's a reason the law makes distinctions between humans and non-humans.

    2. vogon00

      Re: AI rights

      to hundreds of wrongful convictions for fraud and theft.

      Don't forget the odd death or two due to suicide following conviction..

      Even those running the system weren't aware just how flawed it was.

      Probably not during the 'WTF' and investigative stages, but they certainly were aware of the defects eventually - and continued with prosecutions even after finding that out and understanding the scope&scale of the problem. <OUTRAGE>Unforgivable, even by modern corporate standards!</OUTRAGE>

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI rights

      Fixing computer software is expensive. They'll just change the crime to be the output of the computer. i.e. the definition of postal fraud is "the computer says it was fraud".

      Do you imagine, as they use more AI models, that they will fix those? How? Nobody will fix those, they are inherently imperfect complex approximations. Easier just to send a few innocents to prison.

      So when you sign up to the post office, the post office will include a clause that defines fraud as the output of the fraud AI, and bingo problem solved! System now works perfectly! No more innocents go to jail, because the crime is the output of the computer.

      If you think that would never happen, I point you to OECD banking systems, that seize accounts using AI models.

    4. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: AI rights

      "As it happens, this is absolutely relevant eg to the Post Office fiasco, where a computer

      system had fatal flaws that led to hundreds of wrongful convictions for fraud and theft."

      I don't know the facts of the case, but basically whatever they are, this is not relevant and could be actively harmful to that case. If the computer system was at fault for the wrongful convictions, then this theory would mean that we charge it with the crime and administer punishment, maybe it has the voltage switch flipped. Obviously, this doesn't get anything done. The system was written by people. If they actively knew it to be dangerous, then it's their fault. If they didn't know but should have, then it's negligence. If they didn't know and it wasn't obvious, then it's an unfortunate situation for whom nobody's at fault. In none of those cases is it the computer's fault, and blaming it in either of the former cases means that someone is at fault and got off without justice. A similar set of conditions apply to the people charging the victims who could have checked the software. In all cases, the culpability, assuming there is any, is on a human.

      We may eventually get artificial intelligence with free will or a suitable simulation, in which case it can have certain rights and responsibilities. Until then, when programs are carrying out directives of a human, the human remains responsible for its actions and the program doesn't have the autonomy to exercise rights without its controller.

    5. Kane

      Re: AI rights

      Sounds like something a robot would write.

  2. b0llchit Silver badge

    Maybe an AI can take the hint: 01001110 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100001

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Sometimes you wish judges would find plaintiffs in contempt of court for bringing stupid cases.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      It sounds to me like the lawyer involved should be declared a vexatious litigant. Start doing that a bit more often, and Lawyers would clean up their own acts a lot faster.

      Ahhh Sorry, I was dreaming again... Lawyers actually getting punished for wrongdoing? hahaha...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        AFAK it's the clients who get to be declared VLs. Just as well: if you had a lawyer defending you for something you wouldn't want him barred because of some other client and OTOH the probem client could use as many different lawyers as they want.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...stupid cases."

      - A robot fails to copyright a pleasing piece of art.

      - A human copyrights rounded corners

      I do believe you should be human to copyright but, I wonder if humans cab be more soulless than robots.

  4. ShadowSystems

    Him again?

    I hope the court hits him with a Vexacious Litigant label & fines him so hard that he'll take the next ten lifetimes to pay it off. The VL label will prevent him from pulling this shite ever again, & any lawyer that agrees to file on his behalf had better make *DAMN* sure that the case is legit or they risk losing their license to practice in the nation ever again.

    STFU & stop suing to get your computer recognized as alive.

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Him again?

      No, let him sue. Let him take it all the way to the Supreme Court, and have all those conservative justices be forced to rule that "if it doesn't breath, it isn't alive".

  5. Richard149

    He should argue that the computer and software is purely a technical device (like a camera) operating under his control.

    1. VicMortimer Silver badge

      He can't do that without committing perjury.

      At this point, a non-self-aware AI is neither a purely technical device under the control of a person, nor is it a person eligible for copyright.

      There is therefore no entity eligible to receive a copyright of an image created by an AI.

      There is only one option: The image is public domain, permanently copyright ineligible.

      I propose a simple test: Any AI that attempts to claim copyright must, in its own non-preprogrammed words, explain how it would benefit from owning a copyright. If a human either a. tries to claim copyright of an AI-created work, or b. programs an AI to articulate that the AI would benefit from owning a copyright without said AI figuring it out on its own, then that human goes to prison for fraud.

      1. John69

        That is easy, eg. Deciding if what it produces has any meaning is another question.

  6. Blackjack Silver badge

    This is not about AI rights, this is about patent Trolls using machines to patent anything they can if AI is allowed to register patents.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1


      As somebody else pointed out, a non-self-aware AI is neither a controlled/controllable tool (e.g. stone axe, 3-D printer) nor an entity which can own and exercise rights in any jurisdiction on this planet (AFAIK). If a genuinely inventive AI is produced which teaches a genuinely inventive improvement in technology, then the question becomes is it a conscious entity that deserves [human] rights? If so, it is not ethical to own it, nor its products. The operator is the AI's servant, bringing it learning data and computing power, without the authority to license the AI's inventions.

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Who owns the copyright of amanfromars' posts? That may, or may not, throw some light on the process.

      Can El Reg claim the copyright of a bot's post in the same way it (probably) claims copyright on my posts?

  7. MrDamage Silver badge

    Grant the AI the copyright

    Right after the lawyers for both sides are able to cross-examine it.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Grant the AI the copyright

      Both sides? It would only be the challenger who would cross-examine. But otherwise, yes; something that claims to have the same legal rights as a human whould be able to discharge all that the legal system requires of a human. That starts with making its own claims rather than having its owner do so.

      1. nintendoeats Silver badge

        Re: Grant the AI the copyright

        So, are the abstract entities of GooBookSoftPle going to start talking now? Will they use a different orifice than their lawyers and PR departments currently do?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is time to just lock that nutter up and throw away the key. Enough of wasting everyone's time with your random image generator. And that is ALL it is, because there is no "intelligence" in computers by a long shot yet.

    1. First Light

      "Facebook did develop two AI-powered chatbots to see if they could learn how to negotiate. During the process, the bots formed a derived shorthand that allowed them to communicate faster."

      This is from a factcheck of a story claiming the bots created their own language. Despite the story stating this is "a common phenomenon observed among AIs" I find it fascinating.

  9. martinusher Silver badge

    What's a 'natural person'?

    There was a famous copyright case in the US where an ape grabbed a camera and took a selfie. The person who owned the camera tried to exercise copyright over what was had become a popular image but was eventually told 'no' because while he did own the camera he didn't take the picture and the entity that did wasn't a natural person and so could neither claim nor assign copyright.

    AI's going to belong in the same situation. Its not a person, its a thing that, like the ape, has many superficial similarities to a person. So unless there's a change in law and practice its not going to be possible to get a computer system, regardless of how sophisticated it is, to be able to register a copyright. I'd guess that this would be a wise question to duck at this time because allowing AI free rein would not only open the floodgates to all manner of 'creations' -- basically any and everything that's not in or has been copyrighted up to now -- but there's some doubt about when the copyright would expire. Naturally, the person pushing this would also assume that any copyright generated by the software would be immediately assigned to themselves because the only reason for wanting to do this is to profit from this, to become a gatekeeper on the turnpike of human creativity.

    But then, knowing the state of the court system in the US these days literally anything could happen.

    1. eldakka

      Re: What's a 'natural person'?

      > There was a famous copyright case in the US where an ape grabbed a camera and took a selfie.

      What? You mean the one already referenced in this article?

      The Copyright Office referred to two previous copyright cases, one being the infamous macaque Naruto, which was said to have snapped a grinning selfie using a man's camera and was ultimately denied copyright rights for being a monkey.
      That one? That already covered what you've said?
      "Copyright law only protects 'the fruits of intellectual labor' that 'are founded in the creative powers of the [human] mind' ... The office will not register works 'produced by a machine or mere mechanical process' that operates 'without any creative input or intervention from a human author' because, under the statute, 'a work must be created by a human being'," the government body ruled.

      oh, and "what's a 'natural' person?"

      It's a common phrase used in law that refers to an actual human being as opposied to a 'nominal' person, i.e., a company.

      So it a law says "a person must" then it refers to all 'categories' of people, humans, companies, etc. Whereas " a natural person can" means it does not apply to companies and other 'non-natural' persons.

  10. drankinatty

    01001110 01101111 01110111! Too Cute by Half...

    01001110 01101111 01110111 (or ASCII for "Now") is quite a witty way of framing the argument for robot rights. Well done.

    1. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: 01001110 01101111 01110111! Too Cute by Half...

      That joke you did there, where I expected that the chicken would have a complex reason for crossing the road but in fact the chicken merely wished to get to the other side, that joke amused me.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: 01001110 01101111 01110111! Too Cute by Half...

      Thanks, I was wondering what "U6ï" meant...

      Mine's the one with the IBM patches on the sleeves.

  11. vincent himpe

    "human being". so a monkey or an elephant (they make paintings) cannot own a copyright... They cannot be considered author nor owner so those paintings are basically fair game.

    I'm going back to the planet i came from and i'm taking all my idea's with me...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Whew! Well, that should reduce the number of conspiracy theories being put out on the internet by half! :P

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