A U.S. court in Washington, D.C. has ruled that artworks created by artificial intelligence (AI) without any human input cannot be copyrighted under U.S. law. The ruling, made by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Friday, affirmed the Copyright Office’s rejection of an application filed by computer scientist Stephen Thaler on behalf of his AI system, known as DABUS.
This decision follows previous losses for Thaler regarding patent applications for inventions that he claims were created by DABUS, which stands for “Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience.” Thaler has also sought DABUS-generated patents in other countries, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, with limited success.
Thaler’s attorney, Ryan Abbott, stated that he and his client strongly disagree with the court’s decision and plan to appeal. The Copyright Office, on the other hand, issued a statement on Monday expressing its belief that the court reached the correct result.
The growing field of generative AI has raised unique intellectual property issues. In a separate case, the Copyright Office also rejected an artist’s bid for copyrights on images generated using the AI system Midjourney, despite the artist arguing that the system played a role in their creative process. Additionally, several lawsuits have been filed over the unauthorized use of copyrighted works to train generative AI.
In her ruling, Judge Howell noted the challenges that the use of AI in artistic creation presents to copyright law. She stated, “We are approaching new frontiers in copyright as artists put AI in their toolbox,” which will raise “challenging questions” for copyright law. However, she emphasized that the present case is not as complex.
Thaler originally applied for a copyright in 2018 for a piece of visual art titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” which he claimed was created by his AI system without any human input. The Copyright Office rejected the application last year, asserting that creative works must have human authors to be eligible for copyright protection.
Thaler challenged this decision in federal court, arguing that human authorship is not a rigid legal requirement and that allowing AI copyrights would align with copyright’s purpose as outlined in the U.S. Constitution to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
Judge Howell ultimately agreed with the Copyright Office, stating that human authorship is a foundational requirement of copyright law that has been established over centuries. She cited the “settled understanding” of copyright law as supporting the Copyright Office’s rejection of Thaler’s application.