Edward Lee: Copyright in the Age of AI Acceleration

The rise of AI has generated both awe and anxiety. Many fret that AI will displace not only jobs but also human creativity. Professor Edward Lee, co-director of Illinois Tech Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Program in Intellectual Property Law, offered thoughtful perspective and optimism at BYU’s Future of Law Forum today. Noting that there are currently 20 lawsuits pending in which plaintiffs claim AI copyright infringement, Lee shared insights on the evolving concepts of authorship and fair use in the age of AI. Current legal protections for works that exceed a “minimally creative selection of elements” are a starting point, but Lee anticipates a “fluid” period while courts reconcile AI technology with existing legal rules. He also foresees the need for legislation that (1) unifies the inevitable range of judicial outcomes in early cases, and (2) acknowledges that many AI-assisted works are the product of both prompts (words) and expression (selection), yielding something new and not merely an arrangement of what already exists.

While this new frontier is exciting, the volume of novel questions it raises can feel overwhelming. Lee is confident that we will be able to harness the chaos. Referencing Wilbur Wright’s request by letter to the Smithsonian for available knowledge on flight and the Wright brothers’ subsequent world-changing innovations in a mere four years, Lee projects that what may seem to be impossibly big questions and problems are, in fact, surmountable. “If the Wrights can figure [flight] out, we can control AI to serve humanity.”

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