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  • Mal McCallion

No Copyright for Robots

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Oh, the drama of the art world! And this time, it's not about a controversial installation or a scandalous portrait, but about our old friend, Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In a recent ruling that's caused quite a stir, a US court has declared that an award-winning image, created using AI, cannot be copyrighted. Why? Because it wasn't crafted by human hands.

The image in question, a captivating piece titled 'Théâtre d’Opéra Spatial', bagged the top spot at the 2022 Colorado state fair annual art competition. However, the US copyright office review board was unimpressed, stating that copyright protection "excludes works produced by non-humans".

The artist behind the piece, Jason Allen, argued that he used the online AI platform Midjourney to create the image, inputting prompts, adjusting scenes, and dictating the tone. But the board was unyielding, stating that if a work's 'traditional elements of authorship' were produced by a machine, it lacks human authorship and therefore can't be registered.

This decision has bolstered belief in the artistic world - including those on the picket lines in Hollywood - that the creative industries could be protected from the march of AI because, well, why would a film studio green-light an AI production if they couldn't copyright the output. No matter how much cheaper it might be to create, it will be pirated instantly and they couldn't hope to profit from it - assuming this copyright ban persists.

Because it's not all doom and gloom for those wanting to use new tech as creative tools. Judge Beryl Howell acknowledged that we're "approaching new frontiers in copyright", suggesting that artists using AI as a chisel to create new work is a possibility we should be open to.

New York artist-critic Walter Robinson, a Midjourney user himself, argues that using any tool, be it a brush or a computer program, is a creative process directed by a human agent. "I'm not drawing, but I am crafting an image using a tool," he says.

So, where does this leave us? In a world where AI is increasingly part of our lives, this ruling raises important questions about creativity, authorship, and the role of technology in art. It's a fascinating debate, and one that's sure to continue. As for AI, it seems it'll have to wait a little longer for its moment in the artistic spotlight.

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