Copyright in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

October 15, 2012

AI authorshipCopyright law enforces a set of rights associated with original works of authorship.  Traditionally, the authors of those works were human beings.  Today, an increasing amount of that work has been created by computers.  This evolution raises interesting questions regarding what constitutes creativity, and how the law should treat works created by non-human authors.

Companies such as Narrative Science and Stat Sheets are revolutionizing the world of news reporting.  These companies have created computer algorithms that process collections of data and transform them into brief written narratives that describe what the data mean.  These narratives are ideal for news reports, press releases, and corporate communications.

To create these computer generated stories, three elements are required.  One is a vast collection of accurate, timely statistical data.  A second is a large vocabulary of appropriate words and phrases accessible for use by the algorithm.  Finally, the process requires development of a set of rules and an organizational framework to guide the algorithm as it structures the narratives.

At present, computer-generated narratives are most widely used to create sports and financial news stories, press releases, and internal communications for use within companies and other organizations.  The popularity of computer-generated stories and reports continues to expand rapidly.  Text written by computers is already routinely used by some of the world’s most widely recognized publications.

The range of topics for computer-generated stories is continuing to diversify, as the computer algorithms involved become more sophisticated.  For example, artificial intelligence systems are now able to create narratives reviewing restaurants and other businesses and products, based on analysis of assessments and evaluations provided by many individual customers.

There is no doubt that the capabilities of these computer algorithms have significant value for businesses and individuals.  They provide a highly effective method of collecting and distributing important and useful information quickly and at low cost.

There is also no doubt that the algorithms, developed by humans, which enable these systems to operate, represent highly creative work.  The computer programs that drive these artificial intelligence systems constitute valuable intellectual property.

What is far less certain is whether the various narratives produced by the computers merit classification as truly creative works, as contemplated by copyright law.  Is a written story or report created by a computer an original work of authorship of the sort addressed by copyright law?

As the artificial intelligence systems capable of creating written narratives become more advanced and widespread, they will likely probe the boundaries of our conception of intellectual property rights.  Future efforts to address the impact of artificial intelligence on intellectual property rights will raise interesting issues and challenges.