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Does art (including music) created by an AI qualify for copyright protection? It’s complicated. The simple answer, in the US at least, is a firm no – for works created entirely by an AI. However, what about works created with an AI by a human? That’s more complicated.

A new statement of policy by the US Copyright Office explores the latter topic. While it reiterates that “copyright can protect only material that is the product of human creativity”, it digs into the nuances around that, particularly whether a work is a human’s “original mental conception” rather than simple “mechanical reproduction”.

For example, when an AI “receives solely a prompt from a human and produces complex written, visual, or musical works in response” it’s not considered to be true human authorship, and thus can’t be protected by copyright.

However, if a human can “select or arrange AI-generated material in a sufficiently creative way” or “modify material originally generated by AI technology” enough, it CAN be considered human authorship, and thus protected. Well, the human-authored bits can be: a recent ruling on a graphic novel illustrated this.

The guidance – even though it’s US-specific – is well worth reading if you’re thinking about these issues in relation to music, whether you’re a musician, a rightsholder, a collecting society, an AI startup, a policymaker elsewhere in the world…

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