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Autonomous Creation – Creation by Robots: Who owns the IP Rights?

March 5th, 2015 by IPKM blog

Paul drawing Patrick

As part of the 16th EIPIN Congress 2014/2015, which was held on 29–31 January 2015 in Maastricht University, Madeleine de Cock Buning, the Chair of the Dutch Media Authority/Utrecht University Centre for Intellectual Property Law, reflected in her keynote speech on the issue of intellectual property as it applies to Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, in particular where output is autonomously generated without any direct human intervention (the autonomous creation).


What is an autonomous creation?

Autonomous creation is basically a creation produced by a robot or a machine. As mentioned in the speech, there are modern ways of composing music, photographs and paintings (such as David Cope’s music composer “Emily”, “Paul” the artificial painting tool, and StatSheet’s automatic sports journalist). The rapid advancements in computing technology in the past few decades have enabled the development of AI systems capable of producing creative outputs. While these developments have opened the doors to a plethora of new opportunities, they also have raised many issues concerning intellectual property and who should have the rights to the creative outputs of an AI system.

Before jumping into the autonomous creation, first we want to share a little bit of information on how an autonomous creation is actually initiated.


Autonomous Intelligent Systems (AIS)

Intelligence is not easy to define. Intelligent systems should ideally perform “like a human” in a limited sense. Intelligent systems should to some extent be able to learn to perform given tasks and make decisions.[1]

The meaning of the concept of intelligence is a long-discussed topic, and to date, a universal agreement of such concept has not yet been achieved. However, we can quote one of the most complete and practical definitions, by James Albus: “Intelligence — an ability of a system to act appropriately in an uncertain environment, where appropriate action is that which increases the probability of success, and success is the achievement of behavioural subgoals that support the system’s ultimate goal”.[2]

In an engineering system, intelligence is provided in the form of Artificial Intelligence, in order to learn and to reason. A system is called autonomous when it can independently perform the assigned task without human guidance.

An AIS should to some extend be able to learn to perform given tasks and make decisions independently depending on demands with different conditions. AIS would be the next step in the development of a more sustainable information society.

It is not easy to design and develop such a system. It would involve the following:[3]

  1. The definition and representation of intelligence;
  2. The incorporation of intelligence into a system;
  3. The testing and validation of the system’s performance.

The development of recent technologies in the area of robotics has made enormous contributions in many industrial and social aspects. Nowadays, the applications of robotic systems can be found in our surroundings and aimed at improving our day to day lives.

Autonomous mobile robots are those which can perform desired tasks in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance.[4] For example, a robot that can produce a painting based on its own visualisation and projections. In this case, does the robot deserve an incentive? And if we go to the legal perspective of this, who owns the Intellectual Property (IP) rights over the creation produced by the robot?

During her presentation, the speaker also engaged in discussing the legal issues surrounding AIS and the ways in which the gaps between the law and autonomous technology can be filled.


The Public Domain?

One of the options is that the output of an AIS should belong in the public domain. In the case of a fully autonomous and creative computer, the creation is done independently of any external user input. “No one derives rules for the computer to control its creativity; rather, using its learning algorithm and based on the training examples it is given, it develops rules on its own”[5], therefore, all originality comes from the machine, instead of the developer or the user. It follows that only the machine should be entitled to claim ownership of the works produced by itself.

However, the machine is not a legitimate right holder. Copyright cannot be granted to non-human entities. Consequently, the only option is that no one can claim copyright protection, that is, autonomous creations should enter the public domain.

Nonetheless, in some cases, such as “StatSheet” and “Emily”, where the systems were designed to be used by their developers, the latter could claim credit for the work. The issue of intellectual property ownership would be effectively solved, if we consider the AI system as a tool or mechanism to achieve some greater goal. The result would therefore belong to those who built the system that produced the result. In this case, they would just be the developers.

Lately, there have been discussions and law proposals in some countries (like Japan and South Korea) regarding giving human rights to a machine. As to this notion, a big question is whether we need protection and whether we need to give incentives to a robot/machine for its creations.

Furthermore, there are plenty of questions that still need to be addressed:

Could we establish a clear definition of “autonomous creation”? Should an autonomous creation belong in the public domain? Or should we have a new form of intellectual property for something created by a machine or a robot? Does this fit with the current regimes? If yes, would copyright be suitable to protect the autonomous creation? Who would be the copyright owner? Would it be the producer/owner of the robot, or the creator of the software?

Now, what do you think?


by Muzdalifah Faried Bakry & Zhilang He


[1] Pratihar, Dilip Kumar, and Lakhmi C. Jain, eds. Intelligent Autonomous Systems: Foundations and Applications. Vol. 275. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.

[2] Lopez, Ignacio, Ricardo Sanz, and Carlos Hernández. “Architectural factors for intelligence in autonomous systems.” AAAI Workshop on Evaluating Architectures for Intelligence. 2007.

[3] Pratihar, Dilip Kumar, and Lakhmi C. Jain, eds. Intelligent Autonomous Systems: Foundations and Applications. Vol. 275. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Clifford, Ralph D. “Intellectual Property in the Era of the Creative Computer Program: Will the True Creator Please Stand Up.” Tulane Law Review 71 (1997): 1675-703. Web. 28 May 2012.

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