Machines are now formally part of knowledge economy

The China court ruling that gave copyright protection to AI-generated content opens many doors, but also poses a volley of questions

A recent Chinese court ruling marks a great leap forward for artificial intelligence (AI). The People’s Court of Nanshan District of Shenzhen has ruled that that content created by an AI programme is protected by copyright laws, and the makers of the AI programme hold the intellectual property rights for the content. This appears to be the world’s first case involving IPRs and artificial intelligence — the nuts and bolts of business of the future. The court has held that Shanghai Yingxun Technology Company’s act last year of reproducing an article written by Dreamwriter AI Writing Robot, owned by tech giant Tencent, comes under the purview of copyright breach. It has asked the company to pay a fine of 1,500 yuan ($216).

This ruling comes at a juncture in the evolution of AI when lawmakers, companies, IP rights activists and technologists from myriad geographies are engaged in intricate and intense debates over how intellectual contributions and creations from AI should be treated, especially in the content industry. Validating the Tencent article’s eligibility for copyright cover, the Shenzhen court said the article’s form of expression conforms to the requirements of written work, its structure was reasonable, the logic was clear and it had a “certain originality”. The ruling also means work authored by a non-human can be or should be treated at par with a work created by human intelligence. This poses a volley of philosophical and ethical questions. The advancements in deep tech, especially machine learning, have blurred lines between the creativity of humans and machines. In some of the arts and sciences, machines can perform — and even outperform humans — by producing original and organic works. Such trends would force humanity to take a relook at the core philosophies and ideas that define what is ‘genuine’, ‘original’ and, hence, who owns what discovery and how.

The answers will have long-lasting ramifications for society, business and policy. That the court intervention comes from China is also significant. The country is an AI front-runner with its companies having applied so far for over 4,50,000 (and counting) AI patents . Tencent, ranked second in terms of the number of AI-related patent applications with more than 4,115 filings, has been using AI to produce content for nearly five years. In all likelihood, the China court ruling will be emulated by IP courts elsewhere and the results can influence the legality, distribution and ownership of AI products and services. But companies and courts must apply caution while super-imposing ‘human’ rights into AI and try to approach such issues on a case-by-case basis. The inclusive reach of technology and the greater common good must stay paramount.

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