Rights Infringement by AI: Intellectual Property Laws Essential to Respect Human Effort, Creativity

If generative artificial intelligence is allowed to generate profits by learning — without permission — literary works and designs that people made efforts to produce, then everyone will lose their motivation to create, and culture will only fall into ruin.

The government should implement legal measures to protect intellectual property from AI.

The Cabinet Office’s expert panel on intellectual property rights in the AI era, chaired by Toshiya Watanabe, a vice president of the University of Tokyo, has released a draft outline of an interim report. The government intends to reflect the interim report, which will be compiled soon, in its plan to promote measures on intellectual property.

The draft outline states that AI learning of intellectual property does not fall under the protection of the Trademark Law or the Design Law, which require the protection of product names and designs. The draft therefore does not call for restrictions on such AI training.

The rationale appears to be that no profits are generated for AI developers in the AI training stage — but learning by AI involves the process of turning works into usable data, and the content of the data is directly related to the products created as a result.

The thinking by the expert panel that there is no need to protect intellectual property in the AI training stage is too one-sided.

For example, the Design Law, which protects automobile and other designs, prohibits the imitation of designs for a certain period of time in order to ensure economic benefits for the designs’ creators.

Usually, if another person or party imitates a design, it is a single case of infringement of the creator’s rights. However, if AI learns the design, the rights infringement is far more serious as there can be multiple cases of AI users utilizing the imitated design without being aware of the infringement.

The government revised the Copyright Law in 2018 to allow AI to learn about art, news articles and other copyrighted works without restrictions.

Last year, the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association issued a statement saying that AI developers and service providers have gotten a free ride on costly and labor-intensive news content. Regarding this matter, the draft outline states that the efforts people put into their creative work are not subject to copyright law protection.

However, intellectual works cannot be created without human effort. In 2005, the Intellectual Property High Court ordered a company that had used Yomiuri Shimbun headlines without permission for its online news distribution service to pay compensation. The court ruled that the headlines were the result of great effort and expense and that they therefore deserve legal protection.

Basically, expert panels of the Cabinet Office are tasked with synthesizing overall views about measures. If the panel on intellectual property believes AI training somehow falls outside the protection of the current laws, it would make sense to propose a new legal system to protect intellectual property from AI.

It is said that in Western countries that have increasingly introduced AI laws and regulations, Japan is cynically called a paradise for machine learning. Isn’t the Japanese government ashamed of this?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2024)