by Xinhua writers Chu Yi and Wang Yan
KUNMING, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- If one publishes an article generated by artificial intelligence (AI), do they own the copyright?
The protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) has been placed into the collective consciousness, but whether AI-generated content is copyrightable and the question of who owns the AI work still remains controversial.
Recently, China's tech giant Baidu has been entangled in a dispute with the law firm Beijing Feilin over whether an AI-generated article is part of the public domain or the property of the publisher.
In September, Feilin issued a big data report to analyze judicial cases in the entertainment industry on its official account on China's leading social media app WeChat, which, as it claimed, was reposted the next day by Baidu's Baijiahao news platform after deleting the byline and the last paragraph.
The law firm insisted that Baidu published the article without permission, violating the plaintiff's right of communication through the information network. Baidu was also sued over alleged infringement of copyright and the right of integrity.
The defendant argued in court last Tuesday that the involved report was a work by statistical data analysis software rather than an original creation, which did not belong to the plaintiff's intellectual property and was thus excluded from the copyright law.
"This is a new case in the area of copyright protection, and the court needs to deal with many complex issues, such as the ownership and copyright of a work not created by a natural person," said the presiding judge Lu Zhengxin.
There was no immediate ruling from the court.
Baidu's dilemma highlights the murky landscape of IPR protection in the digital era, triggering a heated discussion around the country.
"AI-created works are copyrightable, but their copyrights should belong to the AI designers," read one comment by a microblog Sina Weibo user.
"The copyrights of AI-generated works should be separated according to the efforts made by the stakeholders. For example, the AI designers can account for about 80 percent of the copyrights, while the users, who just input information such as keywords and data, make up a smaller proportion," said another Weibo user.
China's copyright law prescribes that original works by Chinese citizens, legal entities or any other organizations are copyrightable, which means that a natural person or a legal person can enjoy copyrights, and AI is clearly excluded, according to Zhao Zhanling, researcher at the Center for IPR Studies of China University of Political Science and Law.
"However controversy remains when we consider the role a natural person plays in making the AI-generated work," he said.
"If the AI software just serves as an assistance and the creative part is made by a natural person, then the work is copyrightable and the author should own its copyright," he added.
According to law expert Xiong Qi, the vital criterion to determine if a work copyrightable is its originality and whether the content from AI has anything to do with it.
"AI cannot be regarded as a subject matter in law and is incapable of enjoying rights or undertaking any obligation. Since AI's creativity is 'taught' by its designers, copyrights of AI-generated works should be owned by AI designers," he said.
Li Chunguang, director of Yunnan Lingyun law firm in southwest China, echoes Xiong's opinion, saying that AI-generated work is excluded from the current copyright law no matter from the perspective of subject matter or the originality of work.
Searching the keyword "AI" and "copyrights" in China Judgements Online, a website that publishes judgments made by China's Supreme People's Court, we can only find 13 documents, none of which are about whether AI-generated work is copyrightable, Li said. "It is thus hard to find answers from legal precedent."
"As a new case, it has more significance as a future reference, especially when AI is developing so fast in the current society," he added.