Who is the owner of artificial intelligence (AI) rendered content?


The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is the current UK copyright law. It gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material can be used. It also, in several cases, gives the creator the right to be identified as the creator of the work and object to any distortions or adaptations of it.

However, in the case of a work being produced as part of employment rather than normally, the work then legally belongs to the entity that hired the individual creator. Freelance and commissioned work on the other hand belongs to the author of the work unless there is an agreement stating otherwise.

This Act covers the following types of work: literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, typographical arrangements of published editions, sound recordings and films. Different types of works have different lengths of time in which the Act stays valid.

  • For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, the time is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies.
  • For sound recordings, it is 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording was made.
  • For films, it is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last principal director, author or composer dies.
  • For typographical arrangements of published editions, it is 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published.

Lately as AI-rendered content has been on the rise, questions have arisen about the rightful owner of these works. AI machines take the works of third-party artists and generate them into a different work.

UK legislation has a definition for computer-generated works. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 they are “generated by computer in circumstances such that there is no human author of the work”.

The law suggests content generated by artificial intelligence (AI) can be protected by copyright. However, the original sources of answers generated by AI chatbots can be difficult to trace and they might include copyrighted works.

For now, policymakers are sticking to human creativity as the prism through which copyright is granted. However, as AI develops and can do more, policymakers might consider granting legal capacity to AIs themselves. This would represent a fundamental shift in how copyright law operates and a reimagining of who (or what) can be classed as an author and owner of copyright.

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The content of this update is for the purpose of providing general legal information. It does not constitute legal advice from a solicitor and should not be treated as such.