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Generative AI and copyright: how does it work?

June 20, 2024

Generative AI tools can generate large amounts of text or images in an instant. In this article, we discuss several copyright aspects you should consider when using GenAI.

There are many interactions between copyright and Generative AI tools (GenAI). The following three are discussed in this article.

  • No one can claim the copyright on original GenAI-produced content.
  • GenAI can commit copyright infringement unprompted.
  • Use of GenAI should be cited and declared just like other methods in science.
  • No one has the copyright on AI-generated content

Because copyright requires the creative input of a human being, the output of a GenAI system like ChatGPT or Dall-E cannot be copyrighted. This means neither the system’s producer nor the prompt’s writer can claim copyright on the output. Anyone you share the system’s output with can copy, modify or otherwise use it however they want. Only if the tool’s output is sufficiently modified by human creativity can copyright be claimed on the result of this additional creativity.

  • When used for text editing/adjusting, GenAI use should be disclosed in an authorship or credit statement.
  • When used for data analysis, a GenAI tool is considered part of the methods and should be discussed as such.
  • A GenAI system can never be listed as a (co-)author. Aside from writing a text, an author assumes other responsibilities that an AI system cannot.
  • As a publication’s author you are ultimately responsible for the publication’s accuracy and quality. This includes any ‘mistakes’ generated by the AI system.
  • A GenAI model usually can’t be cited as an information source in itself, due to lack of reproducibility and traceability as the same prompt will output a different result at a later time.

In short, GenAI can be used for a variety of purposes, but it also comes with considerations:

  1. GenAI’s output cannot be copyrighted due to the lack of creative input.
  2. GenAI can commit copyright infringement without warning.
  3. If you’ve used GenAI for your texts in any capacity, you have to properly cite, acknowledge and document this.

Read more about GenAI and copyright on the website of the Copyright Information Point. If you have any questions on copyright, both with or without AI, you can contact the Copyright Information Point at copyright@wur.nl.