Should works created entirely by artificial intelligence absent human involvement be eligible for copyright protection? The United States District court for the District of Columbia says NO.

In the case initiated before the United States District court for the District of Columbia by the Plaintiff Mr. Thaller, the court ruled in the matter of whether works created entirely by artificial intelligence be eligible for copyright protection.

Case overview

Mr. Thaller, who owns a computer system he calls the “Creativity Machine” filed an application to the US Copyright Office to register a copyright claim in the work titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” (“the Work”). The Work was autonomously created by a computer algorithm with no human contribution. In the copyright application, the plaintiff Mr. Thaller identified the “Creativity Machine” as author of the Work with him listed as claimant as the owner of the machine stating that the Work was created as work-for-hire.

The US Copyright Office refused to register Mr. Thaller’s claim, finding that it “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim” and Mr. Thaller had “provided no evidence on sufficient creative input or intervention by a human author in the Work”. The Copyright review board confirmed the refusal of the claim. In the letter of the Copyright Review Board, dated February 14th, 2022, the Board affirmed the refusal to register the copyright claim in the Work giving an explanation that no Work can be protected under the Copyright Act if there is no human authorship as a prerequisite to copyright protection in the United States.  In Mr. Thaller’s case the Work lacked human authorship.

As explained in the letter of the Board, after the appearance of the computers and their impacts in the copyrights led to the creation of the Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (“CONTU”) and their job was to study issues associated with copyrighted works and computer-related works. Their opinion on the matter was that presence of at least minimal human creative effort at the time the work is produced was needed for a Work to be copyrightable.

Displeased by the issued decisions from the Copyright office, Mr. Thaller challenged the decision of the U.S. Copyright Office Review Board before the Court. In the ruling, the Court affirms that the human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright and that no Work lacking human authorship can be protected under the Copyright Act.

What this means for North Macedonia

Unlike the United States, North Macedonia does not have a copyright work registry.

Under Macedonian copyright and related rights law, copyright belongs to the individual who created the work, and this right automatically vests in the author at the moment of creation. There is no formal registration process required. Therefore, no similar case as Mr. Thaller’s can be brought before any administrative body or court in North Macedonia.

However, in the past period, we have observed a growing trend in the number of court claims filed, seeking protection for copyright infringement.

Given the limited number of copyright-related cases in Macedonian judicial practice, resulting in a relatively weak legal precedent in this domain, a judgment from an American court can serve as a guiding reference for handling issues pertaining to copyright rights and artificial intelligence. Minimal human creative effort at the time the work is produced shall be needed for a Work to be copyrightable.

Artificial intelligence and copyright

Ivana Jevtic Nikolova