Subscriptions and Increasingly Intangible Intangibles: Where Does it Stop?

Without wanting to say too much about my age, I was part of the first generation to play computer games as kids. Yeah [says the guys adopting his Grandpa Simpson voice]: Back then, you bought it and could keep playing it ad nauseam, which included table-top games like Monopoly and console games like Pacman on my Atari 2600.

Well, the least one can say is that those days are gone… far gone. In today’s world, the way software and media are increasingly packaged basically did away not only with physical copies but with perpetual licenses altogether, rather turning everything into a something “as a service”.

You want a movie? Blockbuster’s gone, so are most DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, as most everyone turned to the likes of Netflix to watch movies and tv shows. Streaming is now the standard way to go about it. Heck, a friend was recently telling me Disney recently decided to do away with one of their stapes and stop selling copies of their movies on DVDs and the like. From now on (or soon anyway), you want to watch a Disney flick, you catch it in theaters or you stream it on Disney+. That’s it.

I think this speaks volumes about what’s been going on with media over the past 20 years or so. With the advent of the Internet, we collectively realized that no one needs to own… anything, really.

in today’s world, that even extends to software, of course. With quite a few companies discontinuing their apps and desktop software, rather opting to provide an equivalent that you can use through a browser, for example, the very concept of buying something that you control, call your own and can decide to keep around (or not) is quickly disappearing, software-wise anyway.

Of course, once you no longer own it, the producer of software can modify it at will, or even discontinue certain whole functionalities, at which point there’s fairly little you can really do about it. You really liked that cross-cell funky calculation function in that online application? Well, too bad, the producer elected to discontinue it, starting… oh yeah… yesterday. Don’t like it? Too bad for you.

Recently, I even saw this pushed one step further, when I realized a computer I was under the impression I had purchased (ah ah, fool) simply essentially disappeared overnight from STEAM, the widely used gaming platform. Yup, the game editor decided to pull that particular title and, of yeah, the effect was to essentially prevent those who had “purchased” it (or rather thought they did) to access or use it any longer. You liked that game? Too bad, it’s gone.

Heck, I’ve even read about certain car manufacturers abroad “innovating” (see those quotes?), by charging car “buyers” (see em’ again?) a monthly fee for the benefit of certain functionalities in their new vehicles, such as heated seats for $18 a month, etc. Yeah, seems in today’s world, businesses all want in on that subscription model. It’s just too good to pass on, it seems. Anyway, I don’t pretend telling anyone anything about this they didn’t already know. Just slightly amusing (if not outright tragic) to realize this is happening and that there precious little you and I can do about it. It’s just, as they say, the way it goes.

Canada Now a 70 Years+ Copyright Jurisdiction

Further to Canada and the U.S. entering into a new free-trade deal a couple of years back, Canada recently formally amended its Copyright Act (the “Act”), to extend the protection term of copyright works to 70 years after death of each author.

Following the example of the U.S. that did so a good while back (after lobbying to save copyright over Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain), Canada thus just added 20 years to how long a typical work will remain protected for. So doing, Canada joins the ranks of several foreign jurisdictions which already hoped on the longer copyright protection term bandwagon.

As to this, I should point out that the new rule will not be retroactive, so that works already in the public domain prior to 2022 will remain so. Technically, I would also point out that, to my knowledge, the coming into force date remains to be decided, though the Act has been amended, what remains is a mere technicality. So, if what you know about copyright includes the basic rule that such protection generally remains for 50 years after death of each author, you should make a mental note: that general rule is now rather 70 years after death of the author.

With a life expectancy of something like 80 years, in Canada, we’re now looking at works produced nowadays that may remain protected for 130 years or more.

Artificial Intelligence – Very Real Creations: AI as a Generator of I.P.?

With an over-expanding array of applications that rely on artificial intelligence (“AI”), we’re finding more and more ways to use them, sometimes to unexpected results. In fact, some AI applications can now even create new things in ways that are not dependent solely on choices and manipulations by human creators and operators. Yes, in today’s world, IA can now create things on its own, leaving the law to wonder what to do with that new reality. Can our legal system deal with creation of inventions or works of authorship by machines (or rather AI)?

That very question is now being asked in most jurisdictions worldwide, as we collectively try and deal with an uncomfortable realization that, maybe, we as humans are not the only ones capable of creating intangible creations that may worthwhile to protect as intellectual property (“I.P.”). Indeed, this is happening as to works like texts, images and music, and even as to what would be considered inventions, had a human been the creator. When such a creation comes about as a result of the operation of an IA program, should we acknowledge it or, instead, sweep it under the rug and hold that the humans responsible for the initial execution are the akin to the authors or inventors? We should note that this issue exists as to copyrights (as in the case of that painting) but also does for industrial designs and inventions.

A good example of that trend is the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) on-going consultations as to whether we should recognize the possibility of AI acting as actual creators of other types of I.P. such as patentable inventions or works of authorship. It may be that we do what to open that door, or maybe we just want to avoid the whole mess and stick with the status quo. The jury is still out on that one… for now.

Recently, CIPO may have creaked the door opened, as it allowed the registration of copyrights to a certain painting, the authors of which are presented as a human and, yes, an IA application. To my knowledge, this is a first in Canada though it has happened elsewhere, such as in India last year as to that very painting.

So, according to Canadian copyright registration No. 1188619, the co-authors of the painting at issue are an individual named Ankit Sahni, on the one hand, and “Painting App, RAGHAV Artificial Intelligence”, on the other hand. The work of joint-authorship is thus presented on the Canadian register as resulting from the combined creative work of two entities (for lack of a better term), one of whom (which?) is a computer program.

It is not yet clear how the law can/would/will deal with this kind of factual situation, including as to what the rules are when a “thing” is named like as an author (or an inventor, if it gets to that), including who the I.P. belongs to off-hand, who can be seen as the co-author (or co-inventor) and why, whether the IA could have been named as the sole author (or inventor), etc. One could also consider to extent to which an AI application must be identified as a creator when it as involved -the same as when a human creator is involved, etc. When IA considered more than a mere tool for a human creator? As you can imagine, the potential questions abound.

Though the idea may seem simple, allowing us to consider IA as a creator or inventor does (will) lead to all sorts of consequences that we collectively would do well to think through, before proceeding.

At any rate, IA creating stuff is an inescapable reality that, one way or an other, we collectively have to deal with. Unfortunately, as every jurisdiction makes these kinds of decision without necessarily paying heed to what is being done elsewhere, we may very well end-up with an I.P. legal system that is even more messy than it currently is, as down the line some countries may allow IA as creators and some may not. As I was writing above, every jurisdiction is currently grappling with these questions.