After the years-long saga surrounding whether a two-dimensional piece of artwork created by Dr. Thaler’s Creativity Machine could be registered as a copyright, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a final order stating that machine generated artwork is not copyrightable. Here’s a recap of the situation:

In 2019, as I blogged about here, Dr. Stephen Thaler, founder and board member of Imagination Engines, Inc., attempted to copyright a two-dimensional piece of artwork titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” that was created by the Creativity Machine.  In Thaler’s initial copyright application, the author of the artwork was identified as the Creativity Machine, with Thaler listed as the claimant alongside a transfer statement: “ownership of the machine.” In his application to the Copyright Office, Thaler stated that the artwork “was autonomously created by a computer algorithm running on a machine,” and he was “seeking to register this computer-generated work as a work-for-hire to the owner of the Creativity Machine.” In an August 12, 2019 letter, the Copyright Office refused to register the artwork, finding that it “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” 

After years of back and forth between Thaler and the Copyright Office, culminating in further denials of Thaler's copyright registration on the ground that this artwork lacked “human authorship,” in June 2022, Thaler sued the Copyright Office in a Washington, D.C. federal court, challenging the finding that this AI-generated work didn't have "the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim."  Thaler contended that the Copyright Office’s refusal to grant copyright registration for a work attributed to AI constituted an agency action that was both arbitrary and capricious, thereby not aligning with established legal principles.

On January 10, 2023, Thaler submitted a motion for summary judgment, asserting that there was no issue of material fact and that the law supports granting him a copyright registration, as he had been requesting from the Copyright Office for years.  While Thaler acknowledged his submission did not possess conventional human authorship, he contended that the Copyright Office’s “human authorship” requirement was unsupported by the law.  Thaler constructed his arguments regarding copyright ownership by relying extensively on common law property principles and asserting that this registration denial was contrary to the language and purpose of the Copyright Act.

On February 7, 2023, the Copyright Office filed a response to Thaler’s motion for summary judgment, and a cross-motion for summary judgment, citing the Copyright Act, Supreme Court precedent, and federal court decisions refusing to extend copyright protection due to the “longstanding requirement” of human authorship. After further briefing in March and April 2023, the district court granted the Copyright Office’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied Thaler’s motion.

While this ruling may be seen by some as a blow to progress in the generative AI space, the court itself noted that “we are approaching new frontiers in copyright as artists put AI in their toolbox to be used in the generation of new visual and other artistic works.” 

See the Order on Summary Judgment here and the full Memorandum Opinion here.