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Artificial Intelligence Can Be Copyright Author, Suit Says (1)

June 3, 2022, 4:10 PMUpdated: June 3, 2022, 5:46 PM

An artificial intelligence could be the proud author of copyrighted material if its creator emerges victorious in a lawsuit against the US Copyright Office.

Stephen Thaler, the president and CEO of Imagination Engines, sued the Copyright Office on Thursday, following the agency’s denial of Thaler’s copyright registration application on the basis that the work created by the inventor’s AI “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.”

It’s the latest lawsuit filed by Thaler, who has sought to secure AI intellectual property rights around the world, so far with limited success. On Monday, he will argue before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that inventors on patents do not need to be human.

“My interest is the definition of what a person is,” Thaler said in an interview with Bloomberg Law. “What I’m building, what many will argue, is sentient machine intelligence. So maybe expansion to the term sentient organism would be in order.”

Thaler’s copyright lawsuit said his registration application listed an AI system known as the “Creativity Machine” as the author of a two-dimensional artwork titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise.” He listed himself as the owner of the copyright in the work, citing the work-for-hire doctrine.

“Both these cases are legal test cases that are designed to help enhance the discussion about what to do now that we have artificial intelligence stepping into the shoes of people and doing human sorts of things,” said Ryan Abbott—a partner at Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan LLP—who is representing Thaler.

The Copyright Office considered Thaler’s request for copyright twice and refused to register it both times due to the lack of human authorship. It also said Thaler wasn’t entitled to apply for copyright registration for the work.

“The denial creates a novel requirement for copyright registration that is contrary to the plain language of the Copyright Act, contrary to the statutory purpose of the Act, and contrary to the Constitutional mandate to promote the progress of science,” according to the lawsuit.

“This case presents a next step technical evolution and it is important for the law to keep pace with it,” said Abbott.

Cause of Action: Administrative Procedure Act violation.

Relief: Order compelling the Copyright Office to set aside its refusal to register the work; reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: The Copyright Office wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan LLP represents Thaler. Attorneys haven’t yet entered an appearance for the Copyright Office.

This case is Thaler v. Perlmutter, D.D.C., No. 22-cv-01564, complaint filed 6/2/22.

(Updated with quotes from Ryan Abbott.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Riddhi Setty in Washington at rsetty@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Adam M. Taylor at ataylor@bloombergindustry.com