Episode 1: Copyright, Selfie Monkeys and the Hand of God

Did you know that in the United States a copyright can only exist when a work was created by a human author? This explains why a selfie taken by a monkey or texts purportedly created solely by the hand of God don’t qualify for U.S. copyright. The standard for copyright protection also requires originality and creativity on the part of the human or humans seeking copyright, and therefore copyright does not apply to works created primarily by machines, including computers.

So how, then, does U.S. copyright law apply to models and data that are largely generated by machine learning algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence?

Stefano Maffulli, executive director of OSI, recently discussed this question with Pamela Chestek, an accomplished attorney and OSI board member. Chestek’s legal practice specializes in free and open source software, trademark law and copyright law.

In this podcast, Maffulli and Chestek chat about how the rapid advancement and applications of AI technologies will soon test the boundaries of the copyright standards and open source definitions. Touching briefly on what does and does not qualify for copyright protection, the conversation then turns to intriguing questions such as:

  • When software itself or a model is modified as a result of what it has algorithmically learned from the data it has been given, is the resulting software or model still eligible for copyright protection?
  • And what about the training data being used in AI applications? Can copyrighted content be used without permission to train a model? Conversely, are data sets that are used to train models “copyright-able”?
  • What does this all mean for companies that are investing heavily in AI to achieve a competitive advantage? If data, models and machine-learning modified software are not eligible for copyright protection, how are companies going to monetize their investment?
  • What, if anything, can organizations do to prevent their AI innovations from being used in unethical and harmful ways?
  • What stance should Open Source advocates and the Open Source Initiative take on these issues?

If you’re looking for a brief overview of the intersection between copyrights, Open Source and AI, you’ll be glad you listened to this fascinating conversation. You’ll gain an understanding of where conflicts are brewing, how the battleground is forming, and why it matters.

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In its Deep Dive: AI event, OSI is diving deep into the topics shaping the future of open source business, ethics and practice. Our goal is to help OSI stakeholders frame a conversation to discover what’s acceptable for AI systems to be “Open Source.” A key component of Deep Dive: AI is our podcast series, where we interview experts from academia, legal experts, policy makers, developers of commercial applications and non-profits.


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