US court rules art generated by AI cannot be copyrighted

21 Aug 2023

Image generated by AI: © pow McD/

Judge Beryl Howell of a US district court said that human authorship is a ‘bedrock requirement of copyright’.

A US court has ruled that artwork generated by AI cannot be copyrighted.

In her ruling on Friday (18 August), US district court judge Beryl Howell said that copyright has never been granted to work that was “absent any guiding human hand” and that human beings are an “essential part of a valid copyright claim”.

Howell was presiding over a lawsuit against the US Copyright Office after the it refused a copyright to Stephen Thaler for an image he generated using AI. Thaler tried to copyright a picture on behalf of an algorithm he dubbed Creativity Machine.

When the Copyright Office handed its final rejection last year, Thaler decided to sue the body for its allegedly “arbitrary” and “capricious” decision that he thought went against the law.

Howell disagrees. In her statement, the judge said that human authorship is a “bedrock requirement of copyright” but acknowledged that humanity is “approaching new frontiers in copyright,” where artists will use AI as a tool to create new work.

“The increased attenuation of human creativity from the actual generation of the final work will prompt challenging questions regarding how much human input is necessary to qualify the user of an AI system as an ‘author’ of a generated work,” her statement read.

The debate around AI and copyright has been intensifying ever since generative AI tools such as ChatGPT became popular.

Last month, thousands of authors including Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picoult signed a letter calling on the likes of OpenAI, Alphabet and Meta to stop using their work to train AI models without “consent, credit or compensation”.

This debate also comes at a time when the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild continue to spearhead the Hollywood strike, and their complaints include the use of AI tech without fair compensation for screen writers and actors.

But Thaler isn’t happy with the court’s decision and plans to appeal the case. “We respectfully disagree with the court’s interpretation of the Copyright Act,” said his lawyer, according to Bloomberg Law.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic