Who owns AI-produced artworks?Written by Shahino Mah
Recent developments in artificial intelligence-generated artwork have caught worldwide attention. A number of artists are using AI algorithms to produce valuable art to be displayed in museums as well as for sale.
For instance, Christie's auction house in New York auctioned an AI-created artwork called "Portrait of Edmond Belamy" for US$432,000 against its initial estimate of US$10,000.
The AI algorithm, created by a Paris-based art collective called Obvious, was fed with a dataset of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries to produce the artwork. This means the AI algorithm is trained by the artwork of previous artists before it composes a new one.
The complex abilities of a computer programme-based painter are broad and impressive since it started with series of training and grew further to produce quality artwork equivalent to those produced by humans.
Clearly, it is not a tool with limited functionality like a camera. It can produce artwork on its own based on what it has learnt.
Aside from art, AI programmes can also be developed to write scientific works.
Beta writer, for example, is a machine-learning algorithm developed under the direction of Professor Christian Chiarcos from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, that wrote an entire book, titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research, published by Springer Nature.
This is the first machine-generated research book that was produced by scanning, compiling, sorting and summarising thousands of pages of research on lithium-ion batteries and those related to rechargeable power sources from Springer Nature's online database.
Currently, there is no clear protection or copyright for non-human artwork. Even though AI can author artwork as it can generate new work independently, it does not mean it is the owner of the work's copyright. The United Kingdom's Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1988 under Section 178 contemplates a natural human being as the owner of computer-generated or AI artwork.
At the moment, humans will be the holder of the copyright. Without the skill of a human programmer who poured their heart and soul into developing the AI programme, it would not exist in the first place. In this case, the programmer is considered to be the first owner or the rightful copyright holder of the AI artwork.
There is an exception to the programmer having copyright, which is when the programme is sold or made available to the public, especially when end users employ it innovatively to produce artwork.
In this situation, the users have more ownership rights. But if
the artwork was produced by end users using an AI programme as part of their work in a company, the copyright of the AI artwork goes to the employer under the "work for hire" agreement.
The ownership of creative artwork or intellectual property is protected not only by state law, but also recognised and respected under Islamic legal principles. In fact, in Islam, intellectual property is considered a type of property and its preservation becomes one of the main objectives of Islamic law (maqasid syariah), namely the protection of wealth (hifz al-mal).
Although, the Quran acknowledges the concept of personal rights (haqq) or private property (milk), the absolute owner of all properties is Allah as everything in this world belongs to Him. The term "ownership" in this context is more akin to trusteeship or stewardship for Allah. This concept of ownership, however, includes the right of the human owner to generate and accumulate wealth as well as the right of possession.
According to the Ottoman Civil Code (Al-Mejelle), one can also acquire real property by developing vacant or undeveloped land (mawat), turning unproductive land to productive land that will, in turn, contribute to the creation of ownership. Similarly, if a person creates or extracts ownerless items (i.e. metals or minerals from the ground), that person can own them.
This also means that any creative act of turning something useless to useful is recognised as a process of acquiring ownership. Intellectual property is inherently creative, creating value where it would not otherwise exist. It can also extend to the creation of value in something useless and turning it into something useful and, therefore, a marketable commodity that can be owned.
In this case, the artwork produced by an AI programme can be owned either by the programmer, user or employer.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 17 May 2021