Ex Machina: Copyright Protection for Computer-Generated Works

38 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2017

See all articles by Robert Denicola

Robert Denicola

University of Nebraska College of Law

Date Written: 2016


A professor in France claims to have written a million books using his computer software platform. Many of the sports and financial news stories available on the Internet are written by computers. Computers also draw, paint, and compose music. Is their output copyrightable? Copyright law requires an identifiable human author because authors own copyrights and computers do not possess the personhood necessary to own property. The Copyright Office and some courts and commentators go further, requiring for copyright not only an identifiable human author, but also human authorship of the protected work. They demand, in other words, that the copyrightable expression in a work emanate from a human being. If a person uses a computer to assist in the manipulation of expression created by the user, the result is copyrightable. If a user's interaction with a computer prompts it to generate its own expression, the result is excluded from copyright. This is a tenuous and ultimately counter-productive distinction. It denies the incentive of copyright to an increasingly large group of works that are indistinguishable in substance and value from works created by human beings. The copyright statute does not define "author" and the constitutional interpretation of that concept is sufficiently broad to include a human being who instigates the creation of a work. A computer user who initiates the creation of computer-generated expression should be recognized as the author and copyright owner of the resulting work. A number of foreign countries have already taken this step. The United States should join them.

Keywords: Copyright, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Generated Works

Suggested Citation

Denicola, Robert, Ex Machina: Copyright Protection for Computer-Generated Works (2016). 69 Rutgers University Law Review 251 (2016), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3007842

Robert Denicola (Contact Author)

University of Nebraska College of Law ( email )

103 McCollum Hall
P.O. Box 830902
Lincoln, NE 68583-0902
United States

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