WIPO Raises Questions About Artificial Intelligence and Copyright

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WIPO has launched a public consultation about artificial intelligence and intellectual property. With technology moving forward at a rapid pace, the UN organization wants to know whether copyrights should be limited to human creativity or if AI-generated content can enjoy the same privilege. Similarly, can AI infringe copyrights of others?

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) was founded more than 50 years ago with the aim of protecting intellectual property.

The organization, which is part of the United Nations, brings countries together to share ideas about important copyright issues, including combating online piracy. In addition, it also helps to shape new policy by facilitating information sharing.

A hot topic in the intellectual property world at the moment is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Specifically, everything that is created by such ‘autonomous’ technologies, without concrete input from human beings.

In recent years AIs have advanced quickly and they are now very capable of creating content on their own. This includes unique material that would otherwise qualify to be copyrighted by persons. The question is, can it still be copyrighted if an AI creates it?

These and other questions are at the center of a public consultation that was just launched by the WIPO. The organization is asking the public for input on a wide range of topics which are detailed in a related draft issues paper.

The topics include patents, data, and designs, but our interest is focused on the copyright section. While it is still early days for most AIs, the WIPO’s involvement shows that this is an issue that will be part of future copyright law.

One of the WIPO’s most basic questions is whether content autonymously created by an AI should enjoy copyright protection. This is a crucial question, as it determines whether human and machine creativity is valued equally, or not.

“If AI-generated works were excluded from eligibility for copyright protection, the copyright system would be seen as an instrument for encouraging and favoring the dignity of human creativity over machine creativity,” the WIPO writes.

This automatically leads to the crucial question, whether or not AI-generated works can be copyrighted in a similar way as their human-created counterparts.

“Should copyright be attributed to original literary and artistic works that are autonomously generated by AI or should a human creator be required?” And if copyright can be attributed to AI-generated works, “in whom should the copyright vest?”

The WIPO requests input on these and several related questions. The organization also has a special interest in ‘deep fakes’. While these are generally created based on human input, they often rely on copyrighted content from third-parties.

Do the owners of the deep fake sources have a claim to any copyrights? Should they be otherwise be compensated?

“Since deep fakes are created on the basis of data that may be the subject of copyright, to whom should the copyright in a deep fake belong? Should there be a system of equitable remuneration for persons whose likenesses and ‘performances’ are used in a deep fake?” WIPO writes.

These questions also apply in a broader sense. A lot of AI-generated content relies on data-input from other copyrighted content. If AIs use third-party content, can they then infringe copyrights as well?

Similar topics were also raised in a related public consultation that was launched by the US Patent and Trademark Office a few weeks ago. This consultation is still open for submissions.

The full list of the WIPO’s questions and issues, including additional background information, is available on the WIPO website. For those who want to chime in, the comment period closes on February 14.

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