Art Created By Artificial Intelligence Can’t Be Copyrighted, US Agency Rules

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

An artwork named “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” ​designed by an AI program.
Provided by Ryan Abbott

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Computers can now write poems, paint portraits and produce music better than many humans. But when it comes to the realm of intellectual property law, artwork made by machines can’t receive copyright protection, a federal agency has decided.

The U.S. Copyright Office refused to grant a copyright this month for an image made by an artificial intelligence program called Creativity Machine—ruling that “human authorship is a prerequisite to copyright protection.” The case will now head to federal court as the AI program’s owner, Stephen Thaler, plans to file an appeal, according to Ryan Abbott, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing Thaler.


Thaler, the founder of the Missouri-based AI firm Imagination Engines, tried to copyright “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” a picture that was autonomously created by Creativity Machine’s algorithm without any human help. Thaler listed the program as the artwork’s author and sought a copyright as the machine’s owner.

The case arrives as artists are increasingly using AI to help generate artwork, including works produced by autonomous machines. Abbott, a partner at L.A.-based law firm Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan, noted that AI-produced artwork is creating significant commercial value, such as an AI-authored painting that sold for $432,000 at auction in 2018.

“The United States Copyright Office has a policy of not allowing that sort of work to be protected,” Abbott told dot.LA. “That sort of policy is going to stand in the way of people developing machines that are going to make socially-valuable creative works: songs, movies, music. This is really an area where the United States should be a global leader in promoting AI development.”

\u200bRyan Abbott, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing Stephen Thaler.

Ryan Abbott, the attorney representing Stephen Thaler.

Provided by Ryan Abbott

Working on behalf of Thaler, Abbott has led a series of legal test cases for AI-generated intellectual property, including patents for inventions created by AI programs. As far as the Creativity Machine artwork, the Copyright Office had twice previously rejected Thaler’s claims in 2019 and 2020, finding that the work “lacked the required human authorship” necessary to win a copyright. In the most recent request for reconsideration, Abbott argued that the human authorship requirement was unconstitutional and unsupported by case law.

But in ruling against Thaler again, the Copyright Review Board’s three-person panel cited several cases in which courts refused to extend copyright protection to non-human creations. In 1997, a federal appeals court ruled that a book allegedly “authored by non-human spiritual beings” could only gain copyright if a human curated the revelations. Similarly, in a separate 2018 case, a monkey was not awarded a copyright for photos that it took with a camera.

“Thaler must either provide evidence that the work is the product of human authorship or convince the Office to depart from a century of copyright [legal theory],” the Copyright Board wrote in its Feb. 14 ruling. “He has done neither.”

Abbott contends that Thaler’s case is different from the monkey ruling cited by the Copyright Board, given that “no one is trying to have a machine own a copyright.” Rather, Thaler wants to own the copyright for artwork created solely by a machine that he built, Abbott said.

“It's going to be a real issue when someone has AI that makes a song that is genuinely commercially valuable—that's playing on the radio, that people want to listen to,” Abbott noted. “Then there's a question: Do I just put my name on this so I can get streaming royalties? Or do I admit the machine made it, in which case I can't stop anyone from using it however they want?”

Abbott said he plans to appeal the board’s decision in federal court in Washington D.C.

Despite its seemingly inhospitable stance toward AI-created artwork, the Copyright Office’s ruling shouldn’t be a major issue for artists using AI as a collaboration tool, according to Ahmed Elgammal, founder of AI software firm Playform. The startup (which is led by L.A.-based CEO Jennifer Chang) creates AI-enabled tools for artists; one of Playform’s products lets artists upload dozens of their own images and uses AI to generate them into something new. (Art created through Playform’s technology was featured in an episode of the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”)

Elgammal said he wasn’t surprised by the Copyright Office’s decision in the Creativity Machine case, as U.S. copyright laws are designed to account for the human creative process. (Other countries like China, he noted, have granted copyrights to autonomous AI.) Still, Elgammal doesn’t see the debate becoming a major issue for artists using AI to assist in their work.

“Artists are using AI as a tool [in] the same way [that] artists are using the camera,” he said. “You cannot claim the camera is the artist. Artists are using cameras to create photographs, and that’s how photographs get copyrighted.”

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Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

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LA Venture Funds

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If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

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Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

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Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

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LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

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Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
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  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
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Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

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If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

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