Last May James Grimmelmann wrote a paper entitled “Copyright for literate robots”. Jose Afonso Furtado has brought it to the attention of the publishing world. The paper can be read at the SSRN site. Here’s its abstract:

Almost by accident, copyright has concluded that copyright law is for humans only: reading performed by computers doesn’t count as infringement. Conceptually, this makes sense: copyright’s ideal of romantic readership involves humans writing for other humans. But in an age when more and more manipulation of copyrighted works is carried out by automated processes, this split between human reading (infringement) and robotic reading (exempt) has odd consequences and creates its own tendencies toward a copyright system in which humans occupy a surprisingly peripheral place. This essay describes the shifts in fair use law that brought us here and reflects on the role of robots in copyright’s cosmology.

We already have robots composing newspaper articles. Professor Grimmelmann’s paper suggests that these must be uncopyrightable. If we can, and why shouldn’t we, program robots to write the books too, then presumably they wouldn’t be copyrightable either. Books written by robots being read by robots: where’s the problem? Either this is silly, or a warning of what’s to come. Robots and AI — take care.

This is reminiscent of, though different from, the idea of the satellite taking a photo being the copyright owner, or the ape taking a selfie having copyright in the image. I wrote about these in Copyright reform? recently. It becomes steadily more important to get our legislatures to come to grips with the ever wider-ranging problem of copyright reform.

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