The U.S. Copyright Office, an agency of the Library of Congress, has released a statement of policy to address the registration of creative works that contain material generated through artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The policy, which became effective on March 16, 2023, aims to clarify the Office’s practices and requirements for registering works that include AI-generated content.
As a federal agency responsible for administering the copyright registration system and advising Congress, other agencies, and the judiciary on copyright matters, the Copyright Office has been grappling with the challenges posed by advances in AI technology. The rise of sophisticated AI technologies, often referred to as “generative AI,” has led to the creation of expressive materials across textual, visual, and audio formats. These AI systems are capable of training on large quantities of preexisting human-authored works and generating new content based on user prompts.
The Copyright Office has seen an increasing number of applications for registration that involve AI-generated material. In 2018, an application was submitted for a visual work described as “autonomously created by a computer algorithm running on a machine.” The application was denied on the basis that the work contained no creative contribution from a human actor. More recently, in February 2023, the Office reviewed a graphic novel consisting of human-authored text and AI-generated images. The Office concluded that the graphic novel as a whole constituted a copyrightable work, but the individual AI-generated images were not eligible for copyright protection.
The central question addressed in the statement of policy is the requirement of human authorship. The Copyright Office emphasized that copyright protection can only be extended to material that is the product of human creativity. This long-held principle is reflected in the term “author,” used in both the Constitution and the Copyright Act, which excludes non-humans.
The Office’s existing registration guidance has long required works to be the product of human authorship. Works produced by machines or mechanical processes without creative input or intervention from a human author will not be registered. In the case of AI-generated material, the Office will evaluate whether the contributions are the result of mechanical reproduction or an author’s original mental conception.
The Office also acknowledged that AI-generated works raise a broader set of copyright issues not fully addressed in the current statement. As part of an agency-wide initiative, the Office intends to publish a notice of inquiry later this year, seeking public input on additional legal and policy topics, including the use of copyrighted works in AI training and the treatment of AI-generated outputs.
The release of the statement of policy marks a significant step in the ongoing dialogue surrounding copyright law and AI-generated content. As AI technologies continue to evolve, the Office remains committed to providing guidance and adapting registration practices to accommodate the ever-changing landscape of creative expression.