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‘Human alchemy’: House tackles AI impacts on copyright law, artists

Lawmakers investigated whether artificial intelligence models should be held liable for copyright infringement — and whether their content can be protected under the law.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Hot on the heels of a hearing in which members of Congress grilled a panel of artificial intelligence experts on the dangers of the fast-growing technology, the House on Wednesday sought to chart a course on a particular issue of importance to lawmakers: the effects of AI-powered generation tools on U.S. copyright law.

Intellectual property first became a topic of debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, when Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn pressed Sam Altman, the CEO and founder of artificial intelligence developer OpenAI, about its programs that use data from human artists to generate new content.

Machine learning algorithms, such as OpenAI’s text-based model ChatGPT or its image generation program DALL-E, review massive amounts of data available on the internet to develop the ability to produce complex works. Some, including Senator Blackburn, have questioned whether AI models should be allowed to parse and recreate content created by human artists.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Blackburn asked Altman whether anyone owns the rights to AI-generated content — music, for example — that is based on human work.

“We think creators deserve control over how their creations are used,” the OpenAI founder responded. “We need to figure out new ways, with this new technology, that creators can win, succeed, have a vibrant life, and I am confident that this will present itself.”

Now, other lawmakers are weighing in on how the government might be able to respond to AI’s impact on copyright.

During a separate hearing Wednesday, the House’s Judiciary Committee took Blackburn’s line of questioning a step further. Congressman Darrel Issa, chair of the panel’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and Internet, said that the U.S. needs to strike a balance between protecting human creators from copyright infringement by artificial intelligence and promoting innovation in AI technology.

“Copyright laws were designed to protect intellectual property,” the California Republican said. “Copyright laws were also created under our Constitution specifically to encourage, and then reward, creations. It’s that encouragement that creates the right of ownership, not the right of ownership having some core item.”

Congress needs to adapt U.S. copyright laws to make room for content that will be generated by AI models while simultaneously protecting human creators, Issa said. “We must first and foremost address properly the concerns surrounding unauthorized use of copyrighted material, while also recognizing that the potential of generative AI can only be achieved with massive amounts of data, far more than is available outside of copyright.”

The panel's Democratic ranking member, Georgia Representative Hank Johnson, agreed on Issa's point but added that forcing AI models to obtain a license to use copyrighted works creates new questions about how such a system would work, and how creators would be credited and compensated.

“No examination of AI is complete without considering the impact that AI works will have on human creators,” Johnson said. “How do we balance the need to protect innovation with the need to protect human creators?”

Both Issa and Johnson’s opening statements were at least partially written by ChatGPT, they later revealed — a trend that is becoming increasingly common among lawmakers looking to make a point about the power of the developing technology.

Meanwhile, members of the expert panel invited to testify at Wednesday's House hearing said that carefully balanced AI regulation is vital to ensuring that the U.S. remains a leader in moving the technology forward.

“In considering whether to impose intellectual-property-based restrictions on AI innovation, Congress should carefully evaluate whether those restrictions would hamper the development of AI here in the United States,” said Sy Damle, former general counsel for the U.S. Copyright Office.

Damle pointed to the well-established copyright doctrine known as fair use, an intellectual property doctrine that allows limited use of a work for purposes such as commentary or criticism. The copyright lawyer contended that most existing generative AI models fall under fair use doctrine, and that courts are well-equipped to handle those that exceed legal bounds.

Replacing fair use with a licensing regime would stifle AI development and pose a difficult enforcement challenge, Damle added.

While policymakers should take seriously what Damle called the genuine concerns of content creators that AI-generated works will displace human artists, similar worries about past technological advancements such as photography proved to be unfounded.

“There is no reason to believe that generative AI is any different,” the copyright lawyer said. “Like the camera … generative AI will be an engine of human creativity, not a replacement for it.”

On the other hand, songwriter Dan Navarro — one half of the folk duo Lowen & Navarro — gave a human face to potential costs of AI-generated art. Navarro testified about what he called the “human alchemy” of creativity, which he said cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence.

“These machines have no emotions or experiences or dreams of their own to draw from,” Navarro said. “All they have are millions and millions of imported songs and lyrics, most copyrighted, Hoovered off of the internet without permission.”

The songwriter, who in March helped launch a pro-creative advocacy project known as the Human Artistry Campaign, said that AI is an exciting prospect that can be used by artists, but that algorithms should not replace human creativity.

“The next decision by the courts and Congress in this area will decide our cultural future,” Navarro told lawmakers, “and it’s your responsibility to make sure that the cultural promise of reward for human genius remains viable.”

Categories:Entertainment, Government, Media, Technology

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