DC District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled on Friday, August 18th, 2023, that works created by AI are not eligible for copyright protections. The Judge ruled copyrights belong to people. If this decision goes unchallenged and becomes the precedent, content creators will have serious decisions to make.
A content creator could get an AI writer to craft their story, but they won’t own the copyright on that story. If you ask an AI to analyze the world’s data and come up with the absolute best story, that story will be in the Public Domain. Anyone who wants to use it, can use it.
Given the producer’s love of copyright, that’s going to be a tough decision to make.
The currently striking Writers Guild of America just received the biggest piece of ammunition for their cause.
Media producers will, of course, want cheap, good writers. But if producers use AI, they will find themselves competing in the marketplace without the protection of copyright on their stories. That’s not to say that the media won’t be profitable. There are plenty of countries where counterfeiting and piracy are daily occurrences—India, Nigeria, and China all have high levels of piracy, yet they also produce a lot of content.
Even if you eliminate counterfeiting and piracy, copyright doesn’t grant profitability. Studios can be profitable with or without copyright protections, but they will have to do things differently. They may have to work in secret and employ rapid distribution models. They may need to invent a distribution model so innovative that it’s simply better than anything else. Or they could lie.
Who’s Going to Lie to Whom?
It may be obvious that your soundtrack was written by an AI, but dialogue is more difficult to prove. It’s colored by actors, directors, cinematographers, and editors. If I were a writer, I might choose not to tell the studio exactly HOW that dialogue came to be. If studios want copyright on everything, they will need to verify that their writers did NOT use AI. How? No idea.
Or, studios could hire human writers and keep doing what they’re doing. This may prove cost prohibitive.
Could this ruling be appealed or challenged in higher courts?
Yup! This was one ruling in one federal district court.
Studios may push to get alternate rulings in other courts. If this happens, and different courts have different rulings, this could become an issue for the Supreme Court to address.
The future is unclear, but I’m enthused about this ruling!