US Copyright Office opens public comments on AI and content ownership

It addresses questions like the required degree of human authorship and training AI models on existing IP.

US Copyright Office

The US Copyright Office (USCO) wants your thoughts on generative AI and who can theoretically be declared to own its outputs. The technology has increasingly commanded the legal system’s attention, and as such office began seeking public comments on Wednesday about some of AI’s thorniest issues (via Ars Technica). These include questions about companies training AI models on copyrighted works, the copyright eligibility of AI-generated content (along with liability for infringing on it) and how to handle machine-made outputs mimicking human artists’ work.

“The adoption and use of generative AI systems by millions of Americans — and the resulting volume of AI-generated material — have sparked widespread public debate about what these systems may mean for the future of creative industries and raise significant questions for the copyright system,” the USCO wrote in a notice published on Wednesday.

One issue the office hopes to address is the required degree of human authorship to register a copyright on (otherwise AI-driven) content, citing the rising number of attempts to copyright material that names AI as an author or co-author. “The crucial question appears to be whether the ‘work’ is basically one of human authorship, with the computer merely being an assisting instrument, or whether the traditional elements of authorship in the work (literary, artistic, or musical expression or elements of selection, arrangement, etc.) were actually conceived and executed not by man but by a machine,” the USCO wrote.

Although the issue is far from resolved, several cases have hinted at where the boundaries may fall. For example, the office said in February that the (human-made) text and layout arrangement from a partially AI-generated graphic novel were copyrightable, but the work’s Midjourney-generated images weren’t. On the other hand, a Federal judge recently rejected an attempt to register AI-generated art which had no human intervention other than its inciting text prompt. “Copyright has never stretched so far [...] as to protect works generated by new forms of technology operating absent any guiding human hand, as plaintiff urges here,” US District Judge Beryl Howell wrote in that ruling.

The USCO also seeks input on increasing infringement claims from copyright owners against AI companies for training on their published works. Sarah Silverman is among the high-profile plaintiffs suing OpenAI and Meta for allegedly training ChatGPT and LLaMA (respectively) on their written work — in her case, her 2010 memoir The Bedwetter. OpenAI also faces a class-action lawsuit over using scraped web data to train its viral chatbot.

The USPO says the public comment period will be open until November 15th. You can share your thoughts until then.