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  • L Higgins and M Bacina

AI artistry wins: Beijing court paves way for copyright recognition

In a world first, the Beijing Internet Court has granted copyright protection to AI-generated images, setting a notable precedent for the evolving landscape of technology and intellectual property rights (full decision). The case, involving plaintiff Mr Li and the use of Stable Diffusion, an artificial intelligence tool, acknowledges that there is human creative input in the AI generation process.

The plaintiff's claim was made against an internet blogger who used the plaintiff's AI-generated images without permission and removed the plaintiff's watermark. The court ruled that the AI-generated images in question met the criteria of "originality" and reflected the plaintiff's "intellectual investment", therefore deeming them as works protected by Chinese copyright law. This decision stands in stark contrast to a recent decision by the US Copyright Office in Zarya of the Dawn, indicating a global divergence in approaches to regulating AI-generated content.

The plaintiff's case can be distinguished on the facts from the recent Thaler decision in the United States. The Thaler decision involved an application that works authored by Mr Thaler's "Creativity Machine" (an AI program) should be subject to copyright protection (i.e. the AI program is the author), whereby the Beijing decision contemplates the person using the AI as a tool as the author. In the Beijing case, the court underscored the importance of attributing the creative output to the individual using the AI tool, rather than the AI as an autonomous author.

The court's reasoning provides insight into the creative process employed by the plaintiff, from conceiving the initial image to the final selection. The court noted that the plaintiff made "intellectual investments" in designing characters, selecting prompt words, arranging their order, and setting parameters.

The court's decision emphasised the need for protecting the rights of individuals utilising AI tools. In this case, the plaintiff not only owned the copyright to the images but also maintained control over the AI model used. Although the damages awarded in the matter were nominal (RMB 500 or approximately AUD$100), the decision sends a clear message about the gravity of unauthorised use and misattribution in the digital realm and acts as a strong precedent in support of recognising intellectual property rights in AI-generated works.

This case prompts a broader discussion on the need for comprehensive and adaptive regulations surrounding AI-generated content. As technology continues to advance, legal frameworks must evolve to ensure fair attribution, protect intellectual property rights, and foster innovation. The Beijing Internet Court's decision sets a positive tone for the future, signaling a move towards harmonising technological adoption with legal protections for creative businesses in the modern digital age.

By Steven Pettigrove, Michael Bacina and Luke Higgins

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