The AI chatbot ChatGPT produces content that may appear to have been created by a human. There are many proposed uses for the technology, but its impressive capabilities raise necessary questions on ownership of the content.

UK laws has a definition for computer-generated works. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 they’re “generated by computer in circumstances such that there is no such thing as a human writer of the work”. The law suggests content generated by a synthetic intelligence (AI) could be protected by copyright. However, the unique sources of answers generated by AI chatbots could be difficult to trace – and so they might include copyrighted works.

The first query is whether or not ChatGPT needs to be allowed to make use of original content generated by third parties to generate its responses. The second is whether or not only humans could be credited because the authors of AI-generated content, or whether the AI itself could be thought to be an writer – particularly when that output is creative.

Let’s cope with query one. The technology underpinning ChatGPT is often called a Large Language Model (LLM). In order to enhance at what it does, it’s exposed to large data-sets, including vast numbers of internet sites and books.

At the moment, the UK allows AI developers to pursue text and data mining (TDM), but just for non-commercial purposes. OpenAI’s terms of use assign to the users “all its right, title and interest within the output”.

But the corporate says it’s as much as users to make sure the way in which they use that content doesn’t violate any laws. The terms and conditions are also subject to alter, so don’t carry the steadiness and force of a legal right comparable to copyright.

The only solution might be to make clear laws and policies. Otherwise, every organisation may have to take legal motion individually, aiming to indicate that they own the works utilized by an AI. Furthermore, if governments don’t take an motion then we’re approaching a situation where all copyrighted materials might be utilized by others without the unique writer’s consent.

Question of ownership

Now to query two: who can claim copyright to AI-generated content. In the absence of a claim by the owner of original content used to generate a solution, it’s possible that copyright to the output from an chatbot could lie with individual users or the businesses that developed the AI.

Copyright law is predicated around a general principle that only content created by human beings could be protected. The algorithms underpinning ChatGPT were developed at OpenAI, so the corporate would seem to carry copyright protection over those. But this may not extend to chatbot responses.

One day, AIs could own the copyright to what they produce, but we’re not there yet.
Shutterstock / Liu zishan

There is another choice regarding the ownership of AI-generated content: the AI itself. UK law would currently prohibit an AI from owning copyright (and even recognising that an AI created it), because it shouldn’t be a human and subsequently can’t be treated as an writer or owner under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. It can also be unlikely that this position goes to alter anytime soon, given the UK government’s response to the AI consultation.

Where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is made by an worker in the midst of their employment, their employer is the first owner of any copyright within the work – subject to any agreement on the contrary.

For now, policymakers are sticking to human creativity because the prism through which copyright is granted. However, as AI develops and is in a position to do more, policymakers might consider granting legal capability to AIs themselves. This would represent a fundamental shift in how copyright law operates and a reimagining of who (or what) could be classed as an writer and owner of copyright.

Such a change would have implications for business as firms integrate AI into their services. Microsoft recently announced that it would be embedding its product Copilot – based on ChatGPT – into the corporate’s software, comparable to Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Copilot can assist users with written communication and summarise large volumes of knowledge.

More developments like this are sure to follow, and early adopter firms have a probability to capitalise on the present situation, by utilizing AI to extend the efficiency of their operations. Firms can often gain a bonus after they are first to introduce a services or products to a market – a situation called the “first-mover advantage”.

Future shifts

The UK government recently carried out a consultation on AI and copyright. Two conflicting views emerged. The tech sector believes the copyright to AI-generated content should belong to users, whereas the creative sector wants this content to be excluded from ownership completely. The UK government has not acted on the findings and as an alternative advisable further consultation between the interested parties.

If copyright law shifts away from its give attention to human agency in future, one could imagine a scenario where an AI is classed because the writer and the developers of that AI because the owners of the output. This could create a situation where a handful of powerful AI firms wield colossal influence.

They could find yourself owning tons of of 1000’s of copyrighted materials – songs, published materials, visuals and other digital assets. This could arguably result in a dystopian situation where the vast majority of newly-created works are generated by AI and owned by businesses.

It seems logical that such knowledge should remain in the general public domain. Perhaps the answer is that all and sundry or company declares their contribution after they use AI – or that their contribution is mechanically calculated by software. Accordingly, they get credit or financial profit based on the quantity of labor they contributed.

AI content that’s itself based on copyrighted materials stays problematic. An inability to depend on copyrighted materials could undermine the power of the AI system to reply prompts from end users. But if the content is to be based on protected works, we would want to just accept a brand new era of open innovation where the mental property rights don’t matter.

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