Artwork created by artificial intelligence without any human input cannot be copyrighted under US law, a US court in Washington DC has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said Friday that only works of human authors can be copyrighted, affirming that the U.S. Copyright Office rejected an application filed by computer scientist Stephen Thaler on behalf of his DABUS system.

Friday’s decision came after Thaler suffered losses from bidding for a U.S. patent covering an invention he said was created by DABUS, short for Autonomous Guidance Device for Unified Awareness.

Thaler has also applied for patents on DABUS generation in other countries including the UK, South Africa, Australia and Saudi Arabia, with limited success.

Cyler’s attorney, Ryan Abbott, said Monday that he and his client strongly disagree with the decision and will appeal. The Copyright Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The rapidly evolving field of generative artificial intelligence raises new intellectual property issues. The Copyright Office also rejected an artist’s copyright application for images generated by the artificial intelligence system Midjourney, even though the artist argued that the system was part of their creative process.

Some pending lawsuits also involve the unauthorized use of copyrighted works to train artificial intelligence.

Howell wrote Friday that “we are approaching new ground in copyright as artists incorporate artificial intelligence into their toolboxes” that will raise “challenging questions” for copyright law.

“However, this case is not that complicated,” Howell said.

Thaler, who applied for the copyright to “Heaven’s Entrance” in 2018, said it was a work of visual art created by his artificial intelligence system without any human input. The office rejected the application last year, saying creative works must have a human author to be copyrightable.

Thaler challenged the federal court’s ruling, arguing that human authorship is not a specific legal requirement and that allowing AI copyrights would serve the purpose of copyright outlined in the U.S. Constitution to “advance the advancement of science and the useful arts.”

Howell agreed with the Copyright Office, saying that human authorship is a “basic requirement” of copyright based on “centuries of consensus.”

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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