U.S. Congress Doesn’t Plan to Overreact to Generative AI Copyright Challenges

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During a House Judiciary IP Subcommittee Hearing yesterday it was made clear that Congress doesn't plan to overreact. Lawmakers hope to find the middle ground, but that could be easier said than done.

judiciary comitteeThis article consists of a collection of words that were once invented, most of them long before copyright or trademarks existed.

Words form the building blocks of today’s society; they help to foster creativity and communication, and represent the driving force behind human intelligence.

These same words are now used as input by generative AI that will ultimately lead to new breakthroughs. Depending on who you ask, it has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of day-to-day life. At the same time, AI is causing grave concerns for the copyright industry.

The copyright angle is the topic of many debates and has already made its way to court in a few cases. It’s high on the agendas of governments around the world, which are poised to accommodate generative AI within copyright legislation.

House Hearing on Copyright and AI

Copyright concerns surrounding generative AI were explored in detail yesterday by U.S. lawmakers at the House Judiciary IP Subcommittee. This hearing is an early step in the legislative process but an important one at that.

Historically, debates around copyright legislation tend to be polarized. However, U.S. Representative and committee chairman, Darrell Issa, urged everyone to approach the discussion with a spirit of collaboration.

“Let us find common ground, seeking solutions that promote the flourishing of both creative expression and intellectual property protection. The stakes couldn’t be higher and the outcome will shape the future landscape of art, technology and copyright today,” Rep. Issa said.

Finding Middle Ground

The chairman stressed that, contrary to what some fear, Congress doesn’t plan to make hasty decisions or overreact. At the same time, stakeholders should not fear or hope for severe measures. In this context he mentioned Spain and Italy, which have taken quite extreme positions.

“Spain is moving forward with what I think might be a very restrictive interpretation. Japan believes, apparently, that all information that goes into the teaching is in fact free of any copyright restriction in its use.

“I do not believe that today’s discussion will take us down either road. I believe we will measure carefully and find middle ground that respects existing copyright law, while allowing the future of generative AI to flourish,” Rep. Issa added.

The Hearing

The chairman then handed the microphone to Subcommittee Ranking Member Hank Johnson, who started his opening statement by concurring that Congress is expected to come up with “reasonable” proposals, but that Japan’s position might be a little too open.

Serious Concerns

According to Representative Johnson, Generative AI has the potential to revolutionize a range of industries but there are serious copyright concerns that come with that, concerns that can’t go unaddressed.

“I am hard pressed to understand how a system that rests almost entirely on the works of others – and can be commercialized or used to develop commercial products – owes nothing, not even notice, to the owners of the works it uses to power its system,” Johnson said.

These and other comments make clear that Congress is expected to come up with some type of legislation. At the same time, the hearing also made it clear that not all AI inventions and products can be treated the same.

Lawmakers Listen to AI Drake

For example, it’s not hard to see how it can be a problem when AI mimics the voice and style of a musician. This includes the widely publicized Drake and The Weeknd track, which was actually played at yesterday’s hearing. Profiting from that work certainly causes concern.

But what if someone uses millions of publicly accessible poems to create a new book? Or millions of music tracks or photos to create unique works? Should all of these inputs be recognized or even compensated? Or is it a case of fair use?

The various witnesses shared different viewpoints on the matter which made clear that a balanced and reasonable approach by Congress would indeed make sense. However, this also means that stakeholders could be disappointed, because the solutions are either too strict or not strict enough, depending on position.

This ultimately means that there will be tensions. And indeed, we’re already seeing rightsholders and public advocacy groups calling for more or less restrictions.

Polarized Positions…

The Human Artistry Campaign, which was founded to represent rightsholders in the AI debates, was swift to chime on to stress the need for regulation. The same is true for RIAA’s Mitch Glazier and NMPA’s David Israelite, who wrote an op-ed ahead of the hearing.

“Creators and copyright owners must retain exclusive control over the ways their work is used. The moral invasion of AI engines that steal the core of a professional performer’s identity — the product of a lifetime’s hard work and dedication — without permission or pay cannot be tolerated,” they wrote.

At the other end of the spectrum are those that want to make sure that AI and innovation isn’t restricted too much, as that would hinder progress. This includes ReCreate Executive Director Joshua Lamel, who cautions against strict regulation.

“As with all change, this paradigm shift would reduce the power of legacy gatekeepers who seek to keep all the opportunities of generative AI while making baseless and boundless demands for compensation.

“Policymakers must remember that generative AI is grounded in Fair Use and other elements that are not subject to copyright protection,” Lamel adds.

The above is just a tiny overview of a single hearing and some of the responses. It’s the starting point of a discussion that will keep lawmakers, stakeholders, and the public busy for a while. Nobody knows where it will lead but heated debates are guaranteed.


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