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The Sleepy Copyright Office in the midst of a high-stakes clash over AI| GuyWhoKnowsThings


For decades, the Copyright Office has been a small, quiet office within the Library of Congress. Each year, the agency's 450 employees register approximately half a million copyrights, property rights in creative works, under a two-century-old law.

However, in recent months the office has suddenly become the center of attention. Microsoft lobbyists, Google, and the music and news industries have asked to meet with Shira Perlmutter, the copyright registry and her staff. Thousands of artists, musicians and technology executives have written to the agency and hundreds have asked to speak at listening sessions lodged in the office.

The attention comes from a first-of-its-kind review of copyright law that the Copyright Office is conducting in the age of artificial intelligence. Powered by creative content, technology has disrupted traditional rules around copyright, which give owners of books, movies and music the exclusive ability to distribute and copy their works.

The agency plans to publish three reports this year revealing its position on copyright law as it relates to AI. The reports will have enormous consequences and will carry great weight in both courts and tribunals. legislators and regulators.

“We are now the subject of a lot of attention from the general public, so it is a very exciting and challenging time,” Ms Perlmutter said.

The Copyright Office review has placed it in the middle of a High-stakes clash between tech and media industries over intellectual property value train new AI models that are likely to ingest copyrighted books, news articles, songs, art, and essays to generate writings or images. Since the 1790s, copyright law has protected works so that an author or artist “may reap the fruits of his intellectual creativity,” the Copyright Office states on its website.

That law is now a topic of heated debate. Authors, artists, media companies and others say AI models are infringing on their copyrights. The technology companies say they are not replicating the materials and that they consume data that is publicly available on the Internet, practices that are fair use and within the limits of the law. The fight has led to lawsuits, including one by the New York Times against the creator of ChatGPT. OpenAI and Microsoft. And copyright owners are pushing for officials to rein in tech companies.

“What the Copyright Office is doing is a big deal because there are important legal principles and a lot of money involved,” said Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of copyright and intellectual property law at Harvard Law School. “At the end of the day, the question is not whether these models will exist. “It’s about who will get paid.”

Congress created the Copyright Office in 1870 to license books, maps, essays, and other creative works and store those works for use by lawmakers in the Library of Congress. The first registration was made for the “Philadelphia Spelling Book”, a language book for children.

When Perlmutter, a veteran copyright official and former Time Warner intellectual property attorney, was named to lead the Copyright Office in late 2020, she promised to bring the office into the modern era by focusing on big technology trends. He was inspired by previous leaders, who dealt with technological innovations such as the camera, records, photocopying machines, the Internet, and music streaming, all of which required the office to weigh in on how copyright would be applied and advise Congress. on proposed updates to the law. .

Immediately, AI became a hot topic. Stephen Thaler, a computer scientist, attempted to copyright an AI-generated work of art by filing an application on the Copyright Office website. In 2019, the office rejected its first attempt to register the piece, a pixelated scene of train tracks running through a tunnel overgrown with weeds and flowers called “A Recent Entrance to Paradise.” In February 2022, Ms. Perlmutter rejected his second attempt register the piece for the same reasons: copyright was granted only to original works created by humans.

The decision, the first in a work produced by AI, set an important precedent. Artists and lawmakers flooded Perlmutter's office with emails and phone calls asking him to also intervene in the way artificial intelligence companies used copyrighted material to train their systems.

In August, it opened the formal review of AI and copyright law. The office said it would examine whether using intellectual property to train AI models violated the law and would further examine whether machine-generated works could be eligible for copyright protections. The office said it would also review how artificial intelligence tools created content that used people's names, images and likenesses without their consent or compensation.

“The attention paid to AI is intense,” Perlmutter said in an interview. “Current generative AI systems raise many complicated copyright (some have called existential) questions that really require us to start addressing fundamental questions about the nature and value of human creativity.”

Interest in the office overhaul was overwhelming. The office requested public comments on the issue and received more than 10,000 responses on a form on its website. A typical policy review receives no more than 20 comments, the office said.

The tech companies argued in comments on the website that the way their models ingested creative content was innovative and legal. Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has several investments in AI startups, warned in its comments that any slowdown by AI companies in content consumption “would upend at least a decade of expectations backed by investments that were based on current understanding.” of the scope of copyright protection in this country.”

OpenAImicrosoft, Goal (Facebook's parent company) and Google are currently relying on a 2015 court decision in a case brought by the Authors Guild.

The guild sued Google in 2005 for scanning books to use in excerpts from its search engine results and sharing them with libraries. A court ruled that Google had not violated copyright law. He said scanning of full books was allowed because Google did not make the entire book available and that it was a “transformative” use of copyrighted material. Google relied on an exemption to copyright law known as “fair use” that allows limited replication of copyrighted material for things like criticism, parody, or other transformational uses.

Google, Meta and AI startup Anthropic echoed arguments from that case in their comments to the Copyright Office, including that AI copies information to analyze data, not reuse it for creative work.

Authors, musicians and the media industry argued that by taking their content without permission or licensing payments, AI companies were stealing their livelihoods.

“The absence of consent and compensation in this process is theft,” Justine Bateman, the actress and author of “Family Ties,” wrote in comments to the Copyright Office.

News Corp, which publishes The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, implored the office to “not lose sight of this simple truth: Protecting content creators is one of the primary missions of copyright law.” (The Times also submitted a comment.)

Perlmutter said she and a team of about two dozen copyright attorneys were reviewing every comment filed with the office.

Still, the office may not offer clear insights that satisfy either technology companies or creative people.

“As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, the challenges are exponentially more difficult and the risks and rewards are exponentially greater,” Ms. Perlmutter said.


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