Justia Featured Resources: Justia Dockets Offering Info on AI Lawsuits

The evolution of generative AI (artificial intelligence) has captured the attention of many Americans during the first few months of 2023. These programs can create text, images, sounds, and other content in response to prompts by a user. As exciting as generative AI can be, it raises certain questions involving copyright law. Federal statutes do not provide clear answers to these questions, so courts will need to confront them. Already, lawsuits involving AI-generated works have been filed in federal courts from coast to coast.

Regardless of whether you have a stake in the outcome or simply find the topic intriguing, you can explore the current status of these cases at Justia Dockets. This free database provides public records of lawsuits in federal trial and appellate courts. A user can search for a specific case by providing information such as a party name, the date, and the court. If they want to explore a range of cases more broadly, they can choose a court and topic. For example, perhaps a user in New York wants to know which copyright cases have come before the Second Circuit, the federal appellate court for New York. They can navigate to the Second Circuit, choose the Intellectual Property category, and then choose the Copyrights sub-category to find Second Circuit copyright cases at Justia Dockets.

Copyright Protection for AI-Generated Works

Copyright Protection

Works created by generative AI pose two main types of copyright questions. The first question is whether these works qualify for copyright protection. Federal copyright law protects “original works of authorship [that are] fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” ranging from books and movies to paintings, architecture, and music. The law does not explicitly say that a person must have created the “original work” at issue. However, the U.S. Copyright Office has stated that it will not register a work that was not created by a human being. In support of this view, it has cited a 19th-century Supreme Court decision explaining that copyright extends only to “original intellectual conceptions of the author.”

A pending lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia directly attacks this human authorship requirement. In the complaint in Thaler v. Perlmutter, Dr. Stephen Thaler argued that the Copyright Office should not have denied his application to register a copyright for an AI-generated work. Noting the absence of any reference to “natural persons” in the text of the law, Thaler pointed out that non-human entities like corporations long have been considered authors for copyright purposes. Thaler also noted that his company would have received protection for the AI-generated work had he listed it as the “author,” and the Copyright Office lacks a way to detect whether a work is AI-generated when an applicant is not transparent. He cautioned against applying language from a 19th-century decision to technology that the 19th-century Supreme Court could not have envisioned.

In early 2023, both Dr. Thaler and the Copyright Office asked the District Court for summary judgment. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may grant summary judgment to a litigant when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The District Court in this case has not yet ruled on the opposing motions for summary judgment. If it grants either motion, this will end the case at the trial court level, but the losing party can appeal the outcome. If it does not grant either motion, the lawsuit will continue toward trial.

Copyright Infringement Involving Generative AI

Infringement notice

The second main copyright question raised by generative AI is whether its use infringes on existing copyrights that cover other works. While works created by generative AI could infringe on existing works, infringement also could happen in the “training” of a generative AI program in preparation for creating written, visual, or audio works. The material used to train the program often includes copyrighted works, reproduced by AI companies. The problem is that the “bundle of rights” provided to a copyright holder includes the exclusive right to reproduce the work. An AI company might respond by claiming that the fair use defense covers AI training. The U.S. Code outlines the four factors that courts must consider in reviewing this defense.

In Andersen v. Stability AI, three artists are pursuing infringement claims against the AI company Stability AI and other defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Among other allegations, they assert that Stability AI acquired copies of billions of copyrighted images without permission to create its Stable Diffusion product. The plaintiffs seek to proceed as a class action, which means that they would litigate the claims on behalf of similarly situated artists whose copyrights Stability AI allegedly infringed. Stability AI and the other defendants filed motions to dismiss the case, and the court has scheduled a hearing for this summer.

This is not the only legal trouble that Stability AI faces. Getty Images also has filed a lawsuit against the AI company in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. The complaint in Getty Images v. Stability AI claims that Stability AI has copied more than 12 million Getty Images photos, as well as their captions, without permission. By describing Stability AI as a “competing business,” Getty Images may be trying to forestall a fair use defense. This is generally harder to establish for commercial uses that undermine the market for the original copyrighted work.

Final Thoughts

These copyright lawsuits involving generative AI may be a long way from the finish line. Even if courts dismiss the cases or otherwise dispose of them before trial, the possibility of appeals looms large. Depending on what happens in the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court may choose to address the topic eventually. Or perhaps Congress will consider revising the U.S. Code to provide a clearer answer to some of these questions. If you are considering litigation in this area, or if you are concerned about a risk of liability, you may want to consult an intellectual property lawyer about the latest developments. You can also explore the Justia Intellectual Property Center for general information about copyright law and its applications. Meanwhile, Justia Dockets offers a helpful way to stay up to date on how these ongoing lawsuits progress.

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