Generative Art Is Challenging What It Means to Be Human

Thaler is unlikely to gain acceptance of the “humanity” of the creative machine he wants from the Copyright Office. Neither should he: radically redefining our conception of what it means to be human is not a task that should fall to the Copyright Registry, an unelected and relatively obscure government official appointed by the Librarian of Congress. But Thaler and other generative artists deserve the recognition and control it would entail to at least be able to register as the authors of these works. As more and more artists turn to generative code and other algorithmic tools to do their job, we should consider extending protection to the products of these methods.

Of course, many artists in the generative art movement don’t care if their work is eligible for copyright protection. However. “Many of the people involved in the cryptographic space who come from a background in programming, coding, or engineering have this open source ethos,” says Erick Calderon, founder of the NFT Art Blocks platform. But Calderon says he sees artists starting to think about protecting their images “that first time someone takes advantage of your work and you feel a little raped, where you’re sitting there and saying,” Oh man, it would have been A pleasure that they have asked me for ”.

Unauthorized appropriation of the work of an artist for commercial purposes where there is significant money at stake seems unfair. And Calderon, an artist himself, sees unauthorized appropriation as both an economic and a political issue. “I would worry if you started a shawarma restaurant and use a Chromie Squiggle as your logo,” he says, referring to his characteristic generative project. “That’s not necessarily the artistic intent behind Squiggles.” It is also important for Calderon to be able to prevent his work from being used for hate speech. Without copyright, artists would have limited resources when they saw their work being used to adorn the flag of an organization they found ideologically disgusting, or when they felt that their music was being used as a soundtrack. ‘a campaign rally for a candidate they despised. Generative artists should also be able to make use of these protections. His work can be computer generated, but it is not generic: the best shows a different style that connoisseurs can easily associate with the artist.

There are other less utilitarian reasons for making copyright available to generative artists. We make art for all sorts of reasons, some petty and some deep, some rational and some very irrational. It makes sense to let artists benefit from their work through copyright not because there would be no art without the cash incentive, but because money is the imperfect language the law uses to shape and communicate values. We want — or should want — to live in a society that values ​​art and artists. And the art that fundamentally and deeply disturbing challenges our understanding of what it means to be human is precisely the kind of art that our system should endorse or, if you prefer, encourage.

There are precedents that may be helpful here. We allow directors, or their studios, to record the films they make in the Copyright Office. Although a film brings together the work of many different collaborators, including machines and sometimes animals, we are comfortable assigning copyright to the “mastermind” behind the film, the director who ” supervised the whole work, “says one case. that. There are some very important differences between what film directors do and generative coders, but our model for assigning copyright to the former could provide a useful template for properly assessing what the latter do.

Some might argue that extending copyright protection to generative art would hinder creative production in general, as it is too “easy” to create a copyrighted work. A copyrighted troll with the right coding skills could generate a thousand images in a matter of seconds and then use them as a judicial bait. But new technologies have always presented opportunities for trolls, and our distrust of the bad actors who exploit the system should not stop us from striving to design a copyright regime that truly fulfills its mandate. constitutional.

Thaler’s perspective may seem extreme, but philosophers, environmentalists, and artists are increasingly adopting a posthuman perspective to understand and navigate the crises of our time. The law, including copyright law, should help facilitate these important lines of research, not prevent it.

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