Software glitch revokes copyright protection for AI-generated comic book

A glitch in the record-keeping software being piloted by the US Copyright Office (USCO) accidentally revoked the copyright registration of an AI-generated graphic novel.

The application to copyright Zarya Of The Dawn, a comic book containing images created by the text-to-image tool Midjourney, was filed by Kris Kashtanova early last year. In September, the USCO approved the first-of-its-kind application, leading many to believe copyright could be assigned to human creators for AI-assisted works.

Generative AI has brought new creative capabilities, and introduced fresh debates over what can and cannot be copyrighted.

Current laws only recognize content produced by human authors. Is their work protected if it was generated by AI? The issue, unfortunately, remains unresolved.

Although the USCO accepted Kashtanova's application, it launched a probe to examine the case in closer detail and could rescind the copyright approval, according to comic book news outlet CBR.com.

Kashtanova thought the investigation had concluded and her copyright certificate had been revoked on Monday after the online record for the application reported a canceled registration. But it was later changed to show that it was still in effect. "The Office's Official Public Catalog, also known as Voyager, reflects the current official status of all copyright public records," a US Copyright Office spokesperson told The Register in a statement.

A glitch in the Voyager system had mistakenly altered the status for Kashtanova's AI-generated comic. "The Office is also piloting a new public records system. The piloting of this system is intended to identify problems or improvements in that system. This situation has alerted the Office to an interoperability problem that we are actively working to resolve," the spokesperson confirmed.

In short, Zarya Of The Dawn appears to be protected under copyright law for now, but that may change if the USCO decides the registration for the AI graphic novel was invalid. "The U.S Copyright Office is aware of public reporting regarding an open copyright registration application. The Office has not issued a decision in this matter, and it remains ongoing," a spokesperson said.

Kashtanova's lawyer, Van Lindberg, a partner at Atlanta law firm Taylor English, said he believes Kashtanova's work deserves to be legally recognized.

"There are thousands of new works being created every day with the help of AI. This case gives the Copyright Office its first chance to evaluate AI-assisted work. The Office needs to decide how much human interaction is enough to make an AI-assisted work copyrightable. We hope the Office will recognize the creative work of Kristina Kashtanova and pave the way for others to have their creativity recognized as well," he told us.

The USCO previously ruled that AI cannot be listed as an author in copyright claims, but it's still unclear if humans can claim credit and protect content they didn't quite generate either. Kashtanova said she spent two weeks and generated over 2,000 images that she edited in Photoshop and used the software Comic Life 3 to lay out the pictures in comic book form.

"I felt that this comic book wouldn't exist without my human input. I also didn't feel that it was made by a machine, because I'm a former software engineer and used to write code. It was made by humans for humans to use," she told The Register.

Kashtanova said a community of people using AI tools like Midjourney had rallied together, and she filed a copyright claim for her graphic novel to help them figure out if their work would be protected under the eyes of the law.

"It's important because a lot of artists who use AI in their process want to know if their work is copyrightable. It's also important for startups and businesses that use AI in their process."

"When the Copyright Office sent me a letter [saying] they were looking into revoking my copyright registration I didn't want to fight, but it's not about me anymore. It's [about setting] a precedent and a lot of people are waiting for this decision to know how to proceed with using generative AI tools," she said. ®

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