Talkin' 'Bout AI Generation: Copyright and the Generative-AI Supply Chain

by   Katherine Lee, et al.

"Does generative AI infringe copyright?" is an urgent question. It is also a difficult question, for two reasons. First, "generative AI" is not just one product from one company. It is a catch-all name for a massive ecosystem of loosely related technologies, including conversational text chatbots like ChatGPT, image generators like Midjourney and DALL-E, coding assistants like GitHub Copilot, and systems that compose music and create videos. These systems behave differently and raise different legal issues. The second problem is that copyright law is notoriously complicated, and generative-AI systems manage to touch on a great many corners of it: authorship, similarity, direct and indirect liability, fair use, and licensing, among much else. These issues cannot be analyzed in isolation, because there are connections everywhere. In this Article, we aim to bring order to the chaos. To do so, we introduce the generative-AI supply chain: an interconnected set of stages that transform training data (millions of pictures of cats) into generations (a new, potentially never-seen-before picture of a cat that has never existed). Breaking down generative AI into these constituent stages reveals all of the places at which companies and users make choices that have copyright consequences. It enables us to trace the effects of upstream technical designs on downstream uses, and to assess who in these complicated sociotechnical systems bears responsibility for infringement when it happens. Because we engage so closely with the technology of generative AI, we are able to shed more light on the copyright questions. We do not give definitive answers as to who should and should not be held liable. Instead, we identify the key decisions that courts will need to make as they grapple with these issues, and point out the consequences that would likely flow from different liability regimes.


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