The diminutive and unassuming Copyright Office, nestled within the Library of Congress, has, for years, been a relatively inconspicuous body. According to a law that traces its origins back to two centuries ago, the establishment’s 450 workers register right around half a million copyrights, granting individuals rights over their creative output.
In the recent past, however, the office has witnessed an escalation in attention, requiring its Register of Copyrights, Shira Perlmutter, to engage with lobbyist groups representing the likes of Microsoft, Google, and various entities from the music and news sectors. They have been receiving thousands of letters from creatives, musicians, and tech leaders, who have also been clamoring to partake in listening sessions hosted by the Copyright Office. This inundation follows a comprehensive review of copyright law that the office has embarked upon focusing on the era of artificial intelligence.
In the current climate, the role and application of copyright law are undergoing significant transformations. This has resulted in a significant showdown between tech and media companies regarding the appropriation of copyrighted content to train new AI models. While copyright owners argue that AI models are encroaching on their rights, the tech sector believes it is operating within the bounds of copyright law.
A series of integral reports planned by the Copyright Office on their stance around copyright law concerning AI is anticipated to significantly influence legal decisions, legislative actions, and regulatory outlooks. Shira Perlmutter acknowledges the current period as an unprecedented one, stating, “We are now finding ourselves the subject of a lot of attention from the broader general public, so it is a very exciting and challenging time.”
The Copyright Office’s appraisal has placed it center stage in the ongoing debates regarding the convergence of technology and creative content. This includes examining the eligibility of machine-generated works for copyright protection and investigating AI tools generating content utilizing the identities and images of individuals without their permission or compensation.
The cascade of public feedback the office has received during this review has been overwhelming. Tech companies have argued that their AI processes, including data ingestion and analysis of copyrighted material, are innovative and legal. The ensuing decision-making process surrounding this challenging dynamic will significantly impact the competing sectors of technology and creative content.