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A Copyright Reboot for Robots
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Posted On January 31, 2023
Chris Kenneally's headshotCCC’s Chris Kenneally, host and producer of CCC’s weekly podcast series, Velocity of Content (which features breaking news and thoughtful analysis from across the global content industry), recently recorded an episode with professor Ryan Abbott, a widely recognized expert on the intersection of AI and copyright.

During the podcast episode, they discuss why the U.S. and other countries should consider developing AI policies and intellectual property laws that would close the discrimination gap between machines and humans—and ultimately prove economically and socially beneficial for humans. While these kinds of legal issues have been around for a while, they have just suddenly picked up a real commercial importance given the paradigm change in the last year in the ability of AI generative models to make art, literature, images, and text at scale in ways that have value to people using them in all sorts of activities.

Listen to an excerpt of the podcast episode on YouTube.

Listen to the full podcast on CCC's website


Machines that can write poetry, paint scenic vistas, and compose sonatas are no longer found only in science fiction. Today, artistic automatons increasingly share our world.

“Last year, we saw a real paradigm change in the ability of these generative models, now open to the public online, to make art and literature and images and text at scale in ways that have value to people,” notes Ryan Abbott, who is professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey School of Law and adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Ryan Abbott's headshot“While legal issues have been around a long time, they have just suddenly picked up a real commercial importance, and people who weren’t looking at it before are now thinking carefully about it,” Abbott explains on the latest Velocity of Content podcast from CCC.

According to Abbott, who has published widely on issues associated with life sciences and intellectual property, wherever technology intersects with copyright law, you will find contrasting approaches to regulation and legislation. “One of which is that the law historically lags behind technological evolution and that maybe we should let that happen and let the market do what it will,” Abbott says. “The other view is that the law should precede technological development. That’s largely a view I hold—in the sense that laws and regulations exist to promote generally the public interest, and there are ways that we want these systems to develop in socially useful, as opposed to socially harmful, ways.”

In Abbott’s view, the U.S. and other countries should begin work as soon as possible on developing such forward-thinking AI policies and intellectual property laws.

“This really requires [that] the policymakers be thinking deeply about these issues and thinking about what rules will best promote social interest, rather than coming to the party years late and trying to regulate once the damage has already been done,” he says.

Any consideration of 21st-century copyright law ought to answer an essential question, Abbott asserts, one that is as at least old as the U.S. Constitution: “Why do we have copyright law? What problems is it trying to solve? In the United States, we have copyright law to promote the generation and dissemination of new works. So rather than taking a very textualist, literal approach to the Copyright Act, instead, taking a step back and saying, ‘With AI making works, is that something we want to protect, or is it not something that we want to protect?’

“We should be clear that we want to protect that,” he asserts. “It is, of course, not just [about] protecting AI-generated works. It is [about] AI-generated works and infringement. It is [about] text and data mining. It is [about] training AI systems more broadly.”

While copyright has long played an important role in monetization of works, a copyright “reboot for robots” potentially can drive technological innovation, Abbott says, creating exciting new works that we don’t even imagine right now.

“Instead of encouraging someone to make specific creative works, you may be encouraging them to build systems that make creative works,” Abbott explains. “The more value those works have, the more you’re encouraging people to build these systems and build systems in ways that are really going to make creative works in ways we can’t now.”

 Image source: ryanabbott.com/about


As senior director of content marketing at CCC, Christopher Kenneally develops content and programming covering issues facing the information industry, especially related to rights management. Kenneally is also host and producer of CCC’s weekly podcast series, Velocity of Content.

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