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.

Appeal Court Confirms No Moral Rights Issue Triggered by Sale of Books in Discount Stores

The Québec Court of Appeal recently confirmed a 2021 decision about the sale of books from the series Les Chevaliers d’émeraude in discount stores, something the author had objected to, in a lawsuit alleging (inter alia) that the sale of unsold and unsellable copies violated her moral rights to the integrity of her works.

The decision at issue, 91439 Canada ltée (Éditions de Mortagne) v. Robillard (2022 QCCA 76), essentially refused to contradict the initial judgment as to the issue of moral rights, thereby confirming the sale at rebate of unsold copies by the editor, and then by the rebate retailer Dollarama, did not pose a copyright (moral rights) problem, in this specific case anyway.

Though thousands of copies of the books at issue were sold off in a manner that resulted in left-over copies being essentially sold off (at $2.00) in certain discount stores (from the Dollarama retail chain), the court concludes there simply was insufficient evidence as to the actual condition of the copies that went on sale at Dollarama stores to be able to conclude anything as to the integrity of the works.

In short, though some other author may eventually be able to make such an argument, if a similar case ever gets to court, the plaintiff would have to bring forth much more evidence that the works had been defaced, cut short, deformed or somehow affected by the poor condition of the books at issue, before a Canadian court can entertain the idea that it should be equated to a violation of moral rights.

Confirmation on Appeal of the Pyrrha Copyright Decision Involving Alleged Copying of Jewelry Design

The Federal Court of Appeal (the “FCA”) recently confirmed a first instance decision from 2019 and relating the alleged copying of certain pieces of jewelry. The decision at issue is Pyrrha Design Inc. v. Plum and Posey Inc. (2022 FCA 7).

As one may remember, the original decision involved a dispute between competing designers of jewelry who both produced and sold certain pieces based on antique wax seals. Though there was unmistakable resemblances between the products at issue, the Federal Court held this did not amount to copying for the purposes of copyright law. Indeed, the concept of the jewelry at issue being the same, did not amount to actually copying works protected by copyright. Given the exact work by the original designer has not been copied (as opposed to the concept of such pieces, for example), no copyright infringement occurred in this case.

On appeal, the FCA validated the reasoning originally applied by the Federal Court, including how it analyzed the issue of the resemblance between the works at issue and whether there had been reproduction of a substantial portion of the original works. As held in the 2019 decision, the FCA decision confirms that, in order to ascertain whether there was infringement, it is appropriate to adopt  a two-step process, whereby one first determines whether there is substantial similarity between the works at issue, then ascertaining whether this resemblance actually relates to portions of the original works that were the fruit of the original artist’s actual contribution to the end result, meaning those that resulted from the exercise of his/her creativity, choices and judgment. In other words, though two works may look like one-another, if the overlap actually relates to pre-existing elements (in the public domain, as in this case) legally we should conclude there was no real copying and, thus, no infringement.

In so doing, the FCA confirmed it is preferable to adopt a holistic approach (by looking at the works at issue as a whole), by contrast to seeking to compare discreet elements/components side-by-side.

Here, one should note that the original artist’s treatment of the antique seals to turn them into jewelry was limited to slight changes to their borders and applying certain effects like oxidation and polishing. As such, these aspects were what his creative efforts resulted in, not the whole of the piece of jewelry, as such. Under such circumstances, the FCA confirms the scope of protection should be limited, as most of what constitutes the works at issue did not result from the exercise of the author’s skill and judgment.

This decision is also a good reminder that copyright law does not deal in concepts, methods or ideas. Having an idea to use antique wax seals as a basis for pieces of jewelry may be neat, but it is not something copyright law protects. The concrete expression of that idea, in designing actual pieces -yes, but not the idea itself. Though a competitor may have “stolen your idea”, it does not mean that we can necessarily do something about it, especially not through copyright law.