Chinese Court Says AI-Generated Content Is Subject To Copyright Protection

Just last week we wrote about the good news that the European Patent Office had decided to reject AI-generated inventions for patent applications and explained why this was good. As we noted, prior to that, most of the discussion on AI and monopoly protections had been focused on copyright, and there are various lawyers and law firms eagerly pushing the idea that AI should be able to obtain copyrights, despite it going against the entire basis of copyright law. So far, we haven’t had a real test of the issue in the US (though the monkey selfie case could be seen as a trial balloon for copyright for non-human creators), but apparently at least one Chinese court has already gone in the other direction.

A court in Shenzhen has decided that articles generated by AI are entitled to copyright protection, according to the National Law Review. The case involved the popular Chinese site Tencent, and a news article generated by an AI software called Dreamwriter:

On August 20, 2018 , the plaintiff first published on the Tencent Securities website a financial report article titled “Lunch Review: Shanghai Index rose slightly by 0.11% to 2691.93 points led by telecommunications operations, oil extraction and other sectors.”

Tencent personnel used the Dreamwriter AI to draft the article and when the plaintiff published the article on its website, it stated that the article was automatically written by the Tencent Dreamwriter AI. The defendant, Shanghai Yingmou Technology Co., Ltd., disseminated the same article to the public through a website operated by the defendant on the same day the plaintiff published the article.

Thus, the lawsuit, and the court decided that the article met all the qualifications for copyright, which apparently does not include “being created by a human” as per the law in the US and elsewhere. Instead, the court said that since it was a written work, it was enough to get a copyright. This is troubling for all the reasons we’ve discussed before. Again, the point of copyright is to create incentives to create. An AI does not need the incentive of a monopoly and the ability to charge monopoly rents for access to that content. So it makes little sense to have copyright in such situations, but in a world where people think that everything — even ideas — must be “owned” I guess that’s what you get. Seems at least a bit ironic that this would happen in China, though perhaps less so that it happened in Shenzhen, which industrialized rapidly by becoming a more capitalistic “economic zone” within China.

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