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The sleepy copyright office in the middle of a high-stakes conflict over AI

The sleepy copyright office in the middle of a high-stakes conflict over AI

For decades, the Copyright Office has been a small and inactive office within the Library of Congress. Each year, the agency's 450 employees register approximately half a million copyrights, ownership rights to creative works based on a two-centuries-old law.

However, in recent months, the office has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight. Lobbyists for Microsoft, Google and the music and news industries have asked to meet with the Registrar of Copyrights, Shira Perlmutter, and her staff. Thousands of artists, musicians and tech executives have written to the agency, and hundreds have asked to speak listening session Hosted by Office.

The focus comes from a first-of-its-kind review of copyright law that the Copyright Office is conducting in the age of artificial intelligence. Technology – which promotes creative content – ​​has overturned traditional norms surrounding copyright, giving owners of books, movies and music the exclusive ability to distribute and copy their works.

The agency plans to produce three reports this year laying out its position on copyright law regarding AI. These reports will be extremely consequential and weigh heavily on the courts as well as lawmakers and regulators.

“We now find ourselves the subject of much greater attention from the broader general public, so it is a very exciting and challenging time,” Ms. Perlmutter said.

The Copyright Office's review has put it in the middle of a high-stakes confrontation between the tech and media industries over the value of intellectual property to train new AI models that mine copyrighted books, news articles, songs, art and There is a possibility of swallowing essays. Generate writing or drawings. Since the 1790s, copyright law has protected works so that an author or artist can “exploit the fruits of his or her intellectual creativity,” the Copyright Office declares on its website.

That law is now the subject of hot debate. Authors, artists, media companies and others say AI models are infringing their copyrights. The tech companies say they are not copying materials and that they consume data publicly available on the Internet, practices that are within the bounds of fair use and law. The fight led to lawsuits, including a lawsuit by The New York Times against ChatGPIT creator OpenAI and Microsoft. And copyright owners are pressuring authorities to rein in tech companies.

“What the Copyright Office is doing is a big deal because it involves important principles of law and a lot of money,” said Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of copyright and intellectual property law at Harvard Law School. “At the end of the day, the issue is not whether these models will continue to exist or not. It is he who will get paid.”

Congress created the Copyright Office in 1870 to register licenses for books, maps, essays, and other creative works and to archive those works in the Library of Congress for the use of lawmakers. The first registration was granted to the “Philadelphia Spelling Book”, a children's language book.

When Ms. Perlmutter, an experienced copyright official and former intellectual property attorney for Time Warner, was appointed to lead the Copyright Office in late 2020, she planned to bring the office into the modern era by focusing on big technology trends. Had promised. He took inspiration from previous leaders who dealt with technological innovations including cameras, records, Xerox machines, the Internet, and streaming music, all of which required the Office to consider how copyright would be enforced and on proposed updates to the law. Congress will have to give advice. ,

Immediately, AI became a hot topic. Stephen Thaler, a computer scientist, attempted to register an AI-generated art work for copyright by submitting an application to the Copyright Office website. In 2019, the office rejected his first attempt to register the piece, which featured a pixelated scene of train tracks running through a tunnel filled with brush and flowers, called “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” I went. In February 2022, Ms. Perlmutter Rejected your second attempt To register the piece on the same basis: copyrights were only granted to original works created by humans.

This decision – the first on AI-generated work – sets an important precedent. Artists and lawmakers flooded Ms. Perlmutter's office with emails and phone calls asking her to intervene in the way AI companies use copyrighted material to train their systems.

In August, they launched a formal review of AI and copyright law. The office said it will investigate whether the use of intellectual property to train AI models violates the law and will look more deeply at whether machine-generated works might be eligible for copyright protection. The office said it would also review how AI tools are creating content that uses names, images and likenesses of individuals without their consent or compensation.

“The focus on AI is intense,” Ms. Perlmutter said in an interview. “Existing generative AI systems raise a number of complex copyright issues – some have called them existential – that really require us to begin grappling with fundamental questions about the nature and value of human creativity.”

Interest in the Office Review was immense. The office sought public comments on the topic and received more than 10,000 responses on a form on its website. A typical policy review receives no more than 20 comments, the office said.

Tech companies argued in comments on the website that the way their model captured creative content was innovative and legal. Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has made several investments in AI start-ups, warned in its comments that any slowdown for AI companies in content consumption “will upset investment-backed expectations by at least a decade.” Which were based on existing understanding.” About the scope of copyright protection in this country.”

OpenAI, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook's parent company) and Google are currently relying on a 2015 court ruling in a case filed by the Authors Guild.

The guild sued Google in 2005 for using excerpts in its search engine results and scanning the books to share with libraries. A court ruled that Google did not violate copyright law. It said that scanning of entire books was permitted because Google did not make the entire book available and that it was a “transformative” use of copyrighted material. Google relied on an exemption to copyright law known as “fair use” that allows limited reproduction of copyrighted material for things like criticism, parody or other transformative uses.

Google, Meta and AI start-up Anthropic all reiterated the arguments of that case in their comments to the Copyright Office, including that AI copies information to analyze data, not use it for creative purposes. Reuses.

Writers, musicians, and the media industry argued that AI companies were robbing them of their livelihood by taking their content without permission or licensing payments.

“The lack of consent and compensation in this process is theft,” “Family Ties” actress and writer Justine Bateman wrote in comments to the Copyright Office.

News Corp., which publishes The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, urged the office “not to lose sight of this simple truth: Protecting content creators is one of the core missions of copyright law.” (The Times also submitted a comment.)

Ms. Perlmutter said she and a staff of about two dozen copyright lawyers were reading every comment filed with the office.

Still, the office can't present clear ideas that will satisfy tech companies or creative people.

“As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, the challenges are becoming exponentially more difficult and the risks and rewards are becoming exponentially greater,” Ms. Perlmutter said.



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