Chinese court declares AI-generated image protected by copyright, a first ruling of its kind
Published: Dec 28, 2023 06:51 PM
A concept photo of AI Photo: VCG

A concept photo of AI Photo: VCG

The Beijing Internet Court ruled in an initial decision that an AI-generated image in an intellectual property dispute was an artwork protected by copyright law, which is the first case of its kind ruled in China, according to the official WeChat account of the Beijing Internet Court on Thursday.

The court recognized the picture generated via text-to-image AI image generator should be considered "artwork" under the protection of copyright laws based on the "originality" and intellectual input of its human creator. According to this announcement, the court ruled in the first-instance judgment requiring the defendant to issue a public apology and pay the plaintiff 500 yuan ($70.16) in compensation. The defendant did not seek to appeal the initial decision.

According to the court, the essentials of people using AI models to generate images are that people use tools to make a creation. As long as an AI-generated image reflects the original intellectual investment of a human being, it should be considered artwork and protected under copyright law.

In this case, the court believed that the AI-generated images are directly produced based on the human creator's personal expression and reflect the original intellectual investment of the plaintiff. Therefore, they are the product of human authorship and the plaintiff owns the copyright of the disputed images.

In addition, the defendant used the images as illustrations and published them on an online platform via a personal account, allowing the public to access the pictures, such behavior infringes upon the plaintiff's right of information network transmission. The defendant also removed the signature on the pictures, a move that violated the plaintiff's right of authorship.

The lawsuit was initiated in May by the plaintiff surnamed Li, who used text-to-image AI software Stable Diffusion to create an image of a woman and posted it on China's Instagram-like platform Xiaohongshu. Li filed a lawsuit against a blogger surnamed Liu for using the pictures without permission.

Earlier in August, the court hearing of the case was broadcast by China Central Television and was livestreamed on multiple platforms, which attracted a total of over 170,000 viewers and sparked heated discussions on the relationship between AI-generated content and copyright.

According to a South China Morning Post report in early December, the decision issued by the Beijing Internet Court, despite being a relatively low-tier court would be likely to have far-reaching implications for future AI copyright disputes, and could eventually benefit large Chinese tech companies. The issuance of the ruling is expected to signal a substantial policy endorsement for the AI industry.

China's internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) along with six other Chinese regulators, jointly issued Interim Measures for the Management of Generative Artificial Intelligence Service. The interim measures that came into effort on August 15, 2023 has set many rules for developers and deployers of generative AI。

With the rapid development of AI-generated products and services in recent years, there has been a growing number of related disputes.

Several weeks ago, a hearing on China's first case concerning the right to voice generated by artificial intelligence started at the Beijing Internet Court, the litigant is a voiceover artist surnamed Yin who has sued five companies, including the app operator, the provider of the AI-generated software and an enterprise that had recorded her voice, claiming that their behavior and practices were infringing upon her right to voice. Currently, the case is subject to further review.

Global Times