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Who owns AI-created works of art?

News   •   Apr 29, 2019 14:51 +08

Image from Pexels

Artificial Intelligence may be responsible for a lot of work that is not done by Creators, but it might soon be infringing upon the territory of the creative arts.

Warner Music just signed an algorithm to a record deal. Or rather, Warner Music signed a German-based company called Endel, which owns an algorithm.

The Endel algorithim can be accessed with an app and it creates ambient music to promote focus or relaxation. Endel uses data like the user's location, time, and the weather to create music, or soundscapes, and the result sounds like white noise and long string notes. According to The Verge, this type of music has "exploded on streaming platforms in recent years" under newly invented genre names like “sleep.”

There is a lot to process from this news. While Endel is not going to take away jobs from pop musicians, it can be seen as the first step of how technology is encroaching into traditionally creative fields.

But more importantly, since Endel is an algorithm, who owns the copyright to the songs this artificial intelligence it creates? The initial signs are not good for algorithms (if they ever become sentient and decide to enforce their copyright).

In the United States, the Copyright Office released on 15 March an updated draft of its Compendium. In Section 313.2 of the Compendium, the Copyright Office has made it clear that to "qualify as a work of ‘authorship’ a work must be created by a human being.” If not created by a human being, they are not copyrightable.

There is already a precedent of the courts not recognizing a work done by a non-human being. In 2011, when a macaque monkey in Indonesia was handed a camera by a photographer and ended up taking a "selfie" that went viral, there was debate about whether the monkey owned the rights to the photo.

Animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the photographer, David Slater, in 2015, claiming that he had infringed the monkey’s copyright by releasing Wildlife Personalities, a self-published book of photography that included the famous monkey selfie.

But in 2018, the monkey, now known as Naruto, was judged by the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals to not own its photo as the copyright law did not expressly authorize non-humans to file copyright infringement suits.

In Endel’s case, they apparently brought in a team of lawyers to figure out the question of who should be the copyright owners for their AI-generated songs. They came to the conclusion that it was the software engineers that should be credited as the authors.

Endel’s press release notes that it is the first "app-as-an-artist" to release music on the major streaming services, and it has already turned out five albums with plans to release 20 more this year.

Now that is something a human Creator might be hard-pressed to do.

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