Artificial Intelligence on Trial

The last few months have seen an explosion in chatter about AI, specifically, freely available AI chatbots and apps like ChatGPT, DALL-E-2, Soundful and more that can create text, images, and music in response to prompts entered by a user. Internet forums are overflowing with examples of people using these apps to create “a love song that sounds like it was played by the Beatles in 1966” or “a painting of a three-legged horse in the style of Picasso” or “a 2,000-word story about colonizing the moon by Ernest Hemingway.” ChatGPT is already the fastest-growing app of all time and, naturally, people fear these AIs will quickly replace actual humans for the creation of commercial art and entertainment. We’re also starting to see some lawsuits involving AI-generated art infringing on copyrights. Everything is pretty much at the complaint stage, so there’s not too much to report on — yet. With that said, what follows are some of the places where I think we’re going to see legal battles. 

Before diving into the legal issues, it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about how AI works. At a high level, AI platforms take in a ton of information and “learn” patterns about that information. Show an AI a coffee cup, and it “knows” what a coffee cup is. “Feed” it a banana, and it can create another banana in any color or pattern a user asks of it. Everything an AI can do begins from something that already exists.

Ok. On to the legal issues that will have to be sorted out by creators or, ultimately, in the courts.

  1. How similar is the output of an AI platform to the material it was trained on? If it’s too close, the output could be infringing. On the other hand, if the output is based on unprotectable components, then there’s no infringement. However, the line between copyrighted and unprotected is not always clear. 
  2. Do AI platforms need to license the underlying materials used to create a new image or song to avoid claims of copyright infringement? In order for an AI platform to review information, it needs to make a copy of it. If work being used as a basis for an AI-generated product is copyrighted (or copyrightable), unless the platform has obtained a license, the act of copying may be infringing. 
  3. If AI imitates an artist, does the output infringe on the artist’s right of publicity which, in some states, extends to an artist’s persona?
  4. What happens if the output from an AI platform includes a trademark? It’s not hard to imagine AI creating works that include trademarks. One doubts trademark owners will be happy about this. 
  5. Sometimes the AI platforms are just wrong or false. These statements could be defamatory, but who is legally responsible? The platform, or the person who gave the platform the prompts? 

We’ll follow the action here as it unfolds.