Copyright Accelerationism

44 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2023 Last revised: 29 Feb 2024

See all articles by Benjamin Sobel

Benjamin Sobel

Cornell University - Cornell Tech NYC

Date Written: December 8, 2023

Abstract

Modern copyright law seems determined to impede people’s engagement with creative expression. The absence of formal prerequisites to copyright ownership locks up works with no commercial value, written by authors who may not wish to claim property rights. Copyright’s originality requirement is so low that all but the most mindless emails and shopping lists satisfy it. Sweeping exclusive rights undermine salutary creative interchange. In tandem with these doctrines, an irrationally long copyright term ensures that nearly all recorded culture is encumbered not merely for years, but for generations.

Today, however, change is in the air—for all the wrong reasons. By historical accident, the same foundational properties of copyright law that have long undermined creators and audiences now happen to pose an existential threat to generative AI technology. Tech companies and their allies are pushing zealously to reform the very aspects of copyright law that impoverish traditional readership and authorship. But by and large, their proposals would change these doctrines only in ways that benefit the generative AI enterprise. AI could “learn” from pirated textbooks, but flesh-and-blood students would still pay full freight. Authors would have to affirmatively opt out of AI training datasets, while other copyright entitlements continue to vest without formality. This is a world in which humans, as ever, are left high and dry.

This essay offers an alternative: copyright accelerationism. It is a proposal so staid that it sounds radical. Stop seeking exceptions to copyright law that, in purpose and effect, serve only the interests of AI firms. Stop opposing copyright’s anti-reader doctrines on the ground that they threaten the AI enterprise. Instead, take the law’s apparent principles and commitments at face value and push them as far as they will go. Then push them some more. Our copyright regime falls short of its constitutional mandate to promote the progress of knowledge. We will never correct course by letting the powerful exempt themselves from the copyright regime and leaving its intended beneficiaries to bear an inequitable burden. But we will correct course if we insist that copyright applies to everyone on equal terms—because it will make a regime that has long been untenable for some into a regime that is untenable for all.

Keywords: copyright, generative AI, AI, cyberlaw, intellectual property, fair use, AI training, data, accelerationism

JEL Classification: K24, O34

Suggested Citation

Sobel, Benjamin, Copyright Accelerationism (December 8, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4658701 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4658701

Benjamin Sobel (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Cornell Tech NYC ( email )

2 West Loop Rd.
New York, NY 10044
United States

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