The Confusing World Of Ai Copyright

A couple of weeks ago we look at some copyright basics, now let’s take it a step further with an excerpt about Ai copyright from my new Musician’s Ai Handbook.

Ai copyright

“When it comes to the world of Ai copyright, there’s much confusion over who owns what, and this is directly a result of the fact the U.S. copyright law is out of date. The last time it was updated was with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which, despite having the word digital in its title, was written before the internet became a widely used source of music and creative content distribution.

While updating the law seems like such an easy solution to the problems and confusion, that requires a lot of study because of the issues that we’re about to cover are complex and have far-reaching effects. Even if a wise and fair law was crafted, it might have trouble passing both Houses of Congress in these politically divided times.

That leaves us with many unanswered questions, most of which are slowly getting worked out based on the fact that, just like our multi-songwriter credits, it’s very expensive to enter litigation. The deeper your pockets though, the more likely that will happen.

Ai Copyright Ownership

As stated in the very first paragraph of this chapter, the issue of ownership is at the heart of all the confusion. Again, who owns it? Is it the owner of the platform you used? Is it the person who wrote the code, or the one who trained the Ai? Is it the owner or owners of the material used to train the Ai? Is it the person who typed in the prompt requesting the content? Is it all of the above, or none of the above?

The U.S. Copyright Office provided guidance on this in March of 2023 that takes a significant step in clearing up the confusion when it stated that a 100% Ai-generated work could not be copyrighted.

Then in August of 2023 a federal judge ruled that Ai-generated artwork cannot be copyrighted because it lacks human authorship. In essence, it agreed with the previous ruling that music or any creative content that’s 100% generated by Ai cannot be copyrighted, but this time clarified why. 

The judge ruled that copyright law only extends to human beings, and works created by animals, forces of nature, even those claimed to have been authored by divine spirits like religious texts, and Ai can’t be copyrighted.

This ruling was not a total surprise since it heralds back to this picture below:

Naruto selfie
Naruto selfie

It’s a selfie of an Indonesian crested macaque monkey named Naruto who was left with a camera, took some pictures of itself, and those excellent pictures consequently became famous and helped sell a lot of books and magazines. The fact that the photo was commercialized led to a court case that contended that since the monkey took the picture, it owned the copyright.

The court saw differently and stated that since the monkey wasn’t human, it couldn’t receive a copyright, which leads to the most recent ruling against Ai being a copyright owner.

But How Much?

So if a human must be involved in the creation, how much of an involvement is required? There’s the rub – there’s been no determination yet, and maybe there won’t be. It could be just like fair use, where each case is unique and has to be ruled on separately. All we know for sure is that for a copyright to be issued with Ai content, a human must participate in the creation in some way.

These dual rulings did leave an impression on the music business though. The Recording Academy immediately stated that a Grammy would not be awarded to a 100% Ai-generated song. Many online distributors like Tunecore stated they would not distribute 100% Ai-generated songs going forward, and Spotify removed a full 7% of its catalog because it found it was Ai generated.

One problem solved, but perhaps a bigger one remains – how much does a human need to be involved, and does the human have to name the Ai as a co-writer?”

You can find out more about Ai copyright and the many questions surround it in my Musician’s Ai Handbook. Read some excerpts and see the table of contents here.


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