Enigma of Copyright ownership in artificial intelligence (AI) created works


When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI), the law of copyright may be one step behind.

Copyright is governed in terms of the Copyright Act which protects certain defined “works” including computer programmes, films, and literary, musical and artistic works. Up and until recently, these works have been created exclusively by humans.

The advances in AI, however, have resulted in the possibility of an AI creating its own works with little, or even no, human input. Artists across varying disciplines have already started using AI to create works such as movie trailers and songs.

The law

There are two ways in which advances in AI affect copyright law.

The first is where an AI is used to assist a human in creating some sort of work.

The second is where an AI creates its own work with little or no human involvement.

The former is considered a computer aided work, while the latter is considered a computer generated work. Computer aided works can generally be attributed to some human authorship, while it is far more difficult to attribute such authorship to a human for computer generated works.

For example

By way of example, the IBM Supercomputer ‘Watson’ was recently tasked to create a movie trailer for the 2006 drama-mystery ‘Morgan’.

Watson analysed the visual and audio-composition of over 100 classic horror movies to ‘learn’ what movies scenes scare us humans. Using this knowledge Watson created a movie trailer for Morgan which in its ‘opinion’ was the scariest possible trailer for that movie. Thus, in terms of the Copyright Act, the Morgan trailer is considered a computer generated work, albeit created by an AI.


Regarding ownership of copyright in computer generated works, the

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Read this article by Brendon Ambrose, Associate Attorney, Spoor and Fisher, as well as a host of other topical management articles written by professionals, consultants and academics in the February/March 2018 edition of BusinessBrief.

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