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Who Owns AI-Generated Content

Who owns AI-generated content in the United States? Learn about the laws regarding intellectual property rights and where AI-generated content fits in.

With the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI), it seems like businesses and individuals are pumping out content like never before. Many content creators have been quick to work this time-saving technology into their processes. However, many haven’t considered who owns AI-generated content — and the issue may be more complex than it seems.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, with the current laws surrounding copyright in the US, you are the author and owner of an original work as soon as you create and fix it. However, if all you’re doing is giving a generative AI program like ChatGPT instructions to create a blog post, does that really count as an original work?

In this article, we’ll explore who owns AI-generated content in the US, laws regarding intellectual property rights, and where AI fits in. Then we’ll give some tips for content creators and web publishers to safeguard their ownership rights.

What Are the Laws Surrounding the Ownership of Content?

When it comes to determining the extent of AI content ownership, we first need to look at intellectual property (IP) law. Your intellectual property rights cover the kinds of intangible things you can create or develop using your mind (for example: ideas, inventions, and artistic expressions).

They typically fall into three categories: trademarks, patents, and copyrights.

  • Trademark: This gives companies the exclusive right to use marketing and branding elements, like logos and slogans, to identify themselves or their products. For example, the world-famous McDonald’s Golden Arches.
  • Patent: The owner of a patent has the right to stop others from reproducing, using, or selling their invention for a certain period of time. Amazon’s 1-click checkout patent, for example, expired in 2017.
  • Copyright: Once you create and fix an original work, like a blog post, image, or song, you own the copyright, and are therefore the author and owner. This gives you several rights, including the legal right to reproduce, display, and prepare derivative works of your original work.

While trademarks and patents may apply to other applications and inventions of AI technology, copyright is the branch of IP law most relevant to the ownership of AI-generated content. But it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

Who Owns AI-Generated Content?

So, can you copyright AI-generated content? Or does it belong to the software itself? While the laws and rules may change as this technology continues to evolve, let’s take a look at a couple of the biggest questions currently surrounding the ownership of AI content.

Can You Copyright AI-Generated Content?

According to current copyright law in the US, no, you can’t copyright AI-generated content.

The US legal system only considers something to be an “original work” if a human comes up with it on their own using some level of creativity. The keyword there is “human”. So, if AI generates a blog post or image by itself, then that output would not be protected by copyright law.

From a copyright perspective, content that has been fully generated by AI either falls under the category of:

  1. The public domain, or
  2. A derivative work of the data used to train the AI

One of the most famous examples supporting the condition of human authorship for copyright is Naruto v. Slater. In what has been dubbed the “Monkey Selfie” case, the court concluded that if a monkey takes a picture of itself, then that image isn’t eligible for copyright protection. It needs that human touch to receive this kind of legal ownership.

But just how much of that human element is necessary is up for debate. In 2022, the US Copyright Office both granted and revoked copyright protection for an AI-assisted graphic novel called “Zarya of the Dawn.” 

After giving it copyright protection, they sent a letter to author Kris Kashtanova’s attorney. The letter stated that they can only copyright the sections written and arranged by a human. This meant that the images Kashtanova created using the AI image generator Midjourney would not fall under these protections.

So, when there’s a combination of AI and human-generated elements, the human elements may receive copyright protection if they meet the requirements.

As AI technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see if US copyright laws change with it. For now, though, you can refer to the United States Copyright Office’s guidelines, “Copyright Registration Guidance: Works Containing Material Generated by Artificial Intelligence,” for more information.

Does ChatGPT Own the AI-Generated Content It Produces?

No. Generally speaking, ChatGPT and similar programs do not own the content you generate with them. 

While they don’t all share the exact same policies, many of the most popular generative AI programs give you at least some right to ownership of their output. Take OpenAI, for example. 

In their Terms of Use for ChatGPT, DALL·E, and their other services, OpenAI states that:

“As between you and OpenAI, and to the extent permitted by applicable law, you (a) retain your ownership rights in Input and (b) own the Output. We hereby assign to you all our right, title, and interest, if any, in and to Output.”

So, you retain the ownership rights to both your inputs and outputs when using OpenAI’s programs and services. You just can’t copyright them and give them legal protection. But does this mean that people can just steal your AI-generated content?

How Content Creators Can Protect Their AI-Generated Content

While you may own your outputs in the eyes of the AI companies, you can’t claim any kind of copyright protection without adding that human touch. So, if you’re worried about someone stealing your content, here’s some advice:

  • Edit, edit, and edit some more. If you’d like at least some of your work to be eligible for copyright protection, then make sure you’re contributing to the final product. You can keep the general framework, but try changing the tone, structure, and wording, to give it some kind of human element.
  • Use an AI content detector. When you’re going through the editing process, it can become difficult to keep track of who wrote what. If at any point you’re unsure of how much human vs. AI-generated text you have in front of you, then run it through an AI checker such as Originality.ai. It will highlight the sections that have likely been written by AI, so you know where to focus your editing efforts.
  • Keep an eye on the news. With the rapid adoption of AI technology and AI writing by many content creators and companies, the legal system is having a hard time keeping up. So, be sure to keep an eye out for the latest updates on the subject, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Final Thoughts

It may seem like it has been around for a while at this point, but AI-generated content is still very much in its infancy, especially from a legal perspective. While things are in motion, we ultimately need to wait for more cases and court rulings to gain some clarity around AI content ownership. And with the technology possibly evolving right along with it, it will be interesting to see how things go.

In the meantime, remember the value of adding the human touch to AI-generated content. If you want your content to be eligible for any kind of copyright protection, it can make all the difference.

Jess Sawyer

Jess Sawyer is a seasoned writer and content marketing expert with a passion for crafting engaging and SEO-optimized content. With several years of experience in the digital marketing, Jess has honed her skills in creating content that not only captivates audiences but also ranks high on search engine results.

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