Is AI-Created Content Protected by Intellectual Property Rights? The Answer Isn’t Simple

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is on everyone’s mind.

But the where and what are posing more questions than ever as the tech’s capabilities and impact expand.

“There’s an awful lot of issues, but one broad question is: If we have AI generating content, is that content protectable by intellectual property rights [IPR]? This is a complicated question that spans different types of intellectual property rights, copyrights, patents, designs, and also a wide variety of ways in which people are using AI,” Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey, tells PYMNTS as part of the “TechREG Talks” series.

One of the fundamental questions in the AI and IPR conversation is whether content produced by AI can be protected by intellectual property rights. From correcting spelling and grammar to generating creative content like art, music and literature, the spectrum of AI applications is vast.

“Copyright generally prohibits the copying of protected content,” Abbott explains. 

In the United Kingdom, for example, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 explicitly states that computer-generated works, those without a traditional human author, are eligible for copyright protection, he says.

In contrast, the United States does not offer the same level of clarity, Abbott notes, and a case is pending in the D.C. Court of Appeals regarding the copyrightability of AI-generated content.

These variations in copyright law can have significant financial implications, potentially impacting the business models of AI companies and content creators.

“The third big question is how does the use of AI change human-centric standards that we’ve had in the law for a long time,” Abbott says. “What does it mean for a work to be original? Can we protect style?”

Training AI With Copyrighted Material

AI systems, particularly generative AI, rely on machine learning and large datasets to function effectively.

However, copyright law generally prohibits copying protected content, which leads to complex legal questions about using copyrighted material to train AI algorithms.

“There is not a lot of settled law in the space, which is a big challenge given that these systems have developed very quickly,” Abbott says. 

The top three issues surrounding AI and IPRs, according to Abbott, are the current state of the law, and the potential ramifications for businesses, and for society.

AI is challenging established legal standards, such as what constitutes original work and who possesses the ordinary skill in the art in patent evaluations. As AI systems increasingly contribute to creative processes, the traditional understanding of authorship and inventiveness is evolving, Abbott says.

This transformation can impact existing legal frameworks, including those governing patents and copyright.

Legal Frameworks and Jurisdiction

Despite ongoing debates and evolving technology, the legal system is equipped to handle AI-related issues.

As Abbott points out, judges can establish new rules, and policymakers can enact new laws to address emerging challenges. However, the key lies in understanding the intended purpose of these laws. For example, copyright laws in the United States aim to promote the creation and dissemination of new creative works, and lawmakers must determine how best to protect AI-generated content within this framework.

The global nature of AI and the potential for regulatory arbitrage are compelling factors for policymakers to establish clear and consistent AI regulations, Abbott says.

The emergence of regulatory-friendly jurisdictions can lead to companies relocating operations or right holders adapting their practices.

Policymakers worldwide are actively exploring and debating regulatory frameworks to address these issues.

However, as Abbott explains, crafting effective regulations that balance innovation, consumer protection and ethical concerns remains a challenge.

“We are talking about different countries having a different interpretation,” he says. “But it is very important to get protection more or less globally. … AI is going to be doing a lot more heavy lifting in the creative space pretty soon.”

That’s why intersection of AI and intellectual property rights presents a dynamic and evolving legal landscape.

Key issues, including copyright protection for AI-generated content, training AI with copyrighted material, and the redefinition of legal standards due to AI’s impact, continue to challenge lawmakers, businesses and society, as Abbott explains.

As the AI field continues to advance, addressing these issues and providing clear legal frameworks will be crucial to harnessing the potential of AI while safeguarding individuals’ rights and interests.