Artificial Intelligence and Law: Can Robots hold copyright?

Artificial Intelligence and Law: Can Robots hold copyright?

Author: Aksa Iype, 
3rd year BA LLB,
School of Law, CHRIST(Deemed to be University) 


In the following study, the author analyses the jurisprudence relating to the personhood of robots in law. Although the existing literature has answered this question in the negative, new developments in the areas of law are challenging this traditional notion. Hence the question if a robot produces a work of work, can the robot have copyright ownership over it? The basic aim of intellectual property laws is to promote the progress of science and useful arts and provides authors a limited monopoly on their work by creative expression and promotes creative work. In the coming years, this jurisprudential thought will be subject to great change since has progress to give robots more autonomy.


Robots or Artificial intelligence have become the most important technologies that humans have created and are seen to be very relevant in the current age and more in the ages to come. The combination of computer and telecommunication has brought along an enormous change in the way we look at technology and in way the society functions. Few years back computers had been looked as a mere instrument to process and record information, this changed to a means to automatically processing and transmitting information, and now as a means of not only autonomously processing and transmitting data but also thinking, deciding and acting[1]. With this raising tide, it is only obvious that the Artificial intelligence will be more and more “Autonomous” by approximating the human thought patterns.[2] The reach of Artificial intelligence ranges from manufacturing industries to administration of justice.[3] Different types of robots include industrial robots which existed prior but emerging varieties such as service and personal care robots are also in the picture. The international federation for robotics in 2015 report on industrial robots found an increase in the usage of robots by 29% in 2014 which recorded the highest sales in a single year[4].

This field is interdisciplinary par excellence, involving not only artificial intelligence and computer science, but also cybernetics, physics, mathematics, mechanics, electronics, neuroscience, biology and humanities.[5]With this rise, there are wide range of growing concerns as well, that the interaction between autonomous robots and ordinary people could lead to various normative problems: the violation of human dignity due to deception or human replacement, privacy and data protection issues, the dual use of robot technologies and the question of moral status of robots.[6]
Looking at a brighter side, a question that will bother the human mind is with regard to copyright. The basic aim of intellectual property laws is to promote the progress of science and useful arts and provides authors a limited monopoly on their work by creative expression and promotes creative work. The question with regard to copyright is that as to who, if any, would get the right to a creative or an innovative work if the work done is done by a machine? The artificial intelligence has made the works done by machine a reality and yet the statutory regulation that protect copyright does not protect or recognise the work done by the machine. There’s an upcoming thought that believes that there is a need of acknowledging the robots as a new source of personal responsibility for others[7].If the robots with their extreme creativity and capabilities are let to behave and produce in a environment that is not supervised then the results will be unpredictable and in such a process if there is a damage caused to another or a third party then this damage can be put on something saying that it was something it was supposed to do.[8]
An Author is defined under the Copyright act under section 2(d) as in case of a literary or dramatic work the author of the work, in case of a musical work, the composer, in cas
e of artistic work the artist, in case of cinematograph or sound recording the producer and in case of any literary or dramatic or musical or artistic work which is computer generated, the person who causes the work to be created. it is evident that the statute does not recognise robot as an author of creative work.  The Constitution of India which guarantees rights to its citizens though the judiciary, this judiciary does not have a fixed stand on the matter of Artificial intelligence. The Indian government intends to facilitate the growth of AI by constituting a committee titled” Task force on AI for India’s economic transformation” in August 2017, which provided recommendations as to the formulation of detailed policy on AI in India to the department of industrial policy and promotion. The recommendations include to set up a fund for 5 years to coordinate with all AI related activates in India. An education curriculum to be set up to have more people who are able to handle the AI system. The recommendations also include to set up an inter-ministerial collaboration that must be set up to ensure India participates in meeting that are held for the progress of AI in international platforms. These recommendations are made by the committee, yet it is up to the government to take actions based on these inputs.
There are various laws relating to intellectual property in India and most of these legislations will affect the working and progress of AI in India. With respect to Copyright law there are elements that have to met for a work to be protected under this law. As held in the case of Eastern book company v D B Modak and Anr[9]which held that there must be a minimal degree of creativity and the variation must be substantive and not just a trivial one. In the case of an Artificial intelligence this would not be the case as it would not be difficult for the machine to pass the test of originality. For the AI to have ownership of copyright it must qualify the elements of an “author” this is the main argument where AI is considered not to have a legal personality.

Personhood in Law

The word Person is derived from a Latin term “Persona”, and the roman law attributed it to social and legal roles that man played, as individual or as part of the society.[10] In the ancient period the Greeks like Aristotle did not consider slaves and women as legal persons and had no legal rights.[11] As per the general dictionary meaning robots cannot be included within the definition of a person, as it includes only personhood of living human beings only. Legal personality attributed to an individual according to law means, the ability of that person to be able to exercise his legal rights and obligation[12].The judiciary in the case of the monkey selfie, Naruto v Slater[13], where the US district court dismissed the claim of the monkey in the authorship of the photograph taken by the monkey using the camera that belonged to slater. The court rejected the claim as the Act requires a “person” to be involved to qualify the work to be protected by copyright law. The creation of a regulation for recognising the rights of non-human authors are not be possible as the animals or machines are unpredictable with regard to their behaviour and are influenced by training and control over them.[14] This case the main question was whether copyright protection can be given to non-human authors. It is to be notes that the animals can act or be forbidden from acting in certain way but there cannot be a legal relation that can be established with them.[15] Legal system functions by conferring rights and obligations on two individual who are restricted from violating the other person’s right, when such right is violated that action is backed by legal sanction this relationship between two individuals cannot be exercised between an individual and a thing.[16]A legal personality to the AI is an interesting analysis of the features of law. AI has been regarded as a technical reality or an instrument at service of law through which it achieves the interest of humans. The basic requirement for attributing legal personality is one’s own will, and this is said to be not present in the AI. But current technological advancement has made it possible for an AI to function on its own will. The German legal system differentiates between Legal subjects and Legal objects. Legal subjects, usually are humans who can be the holder of rights and obligation but with respect to legal objects this is not the case they can only be objects of the legal owner’s right. In addition to this a legal personality must have a contractual capacity and legal capacity[17]. The holder of these right must be capable of being aware of the rights possessed by him.

Even though these points bring us to an idea that AI cannot be recognised as a person and given legal personality which means that it cannot be brought into the definition of author in the India Copyright act 1957. Undoubtedly there must be an human in kick starting AI’s creative undertaking, however the process to determine who the author or owner is when the AI steps in to play a pivotal role in the creation of the work, continues to remain a grey area.[18] The copyright law if protects the rights of non-human human author by recognising such works then the copyright law will be broadened by this aspect.[19] The other issues of recognising non-human authors must also be considered, that is the post recognition period as to who will claim for violation of such a right in cases, who will assign and license the economic and moral rights? Who will be entitled to remedies if so? These are the questions that will be followed. Although we may be fast approaching a time when Als achieve the status of legal personhood, that time is not yet here.[20]


The current position of law with regard to the protection of work done by the non-human authors is the same as it was fifty years back. However, two decades into the new millennium, we can see a slow transition from the traditionalist view that robots cannot hold rights. In the coming years, this jurisprudential thought will be subject to great change since has progress to give robots more autonomy. Hence, there has been no change in the law regarding the recognition of non-human authors. As mentioned earlier even thought the current generation is progressed to an extent to come up with more and more technology the law has not reached that position yet. The law must develop and look at aspects of laws relating to AI, as they take the world into their hands and raise the level of creativity. Every thing has its own pros and cons which will be derived out of this as well, it is up to the policy makers to define and create a wall in which the AI can function and benefit the society.

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[1] Francisco Andrade et al., Contracting agents: Legal personality and representation, 15 Artif. Intell. Law 357–373 (2007).

[2] Susanne Beck, The problem of ascribing legal responsibility in the case of robotics, 31 AI Soc. 473–481 (2016).

[3] S. M. Solaiman, Legal personality of robots, corporations, idols and chimpanzees: a quest for legitimacy, 25 Artif. Intell. Law 155–179 (2017).

[4] Id.

[5] Ugo Pagallo, Killers, fridges, and slaves: A legal journey in robotics, 26 AI Soc. 347–354 (2011).

[6] Hironori Matsuzaki & Gesa Lindemann, The autonomy-safety-paradox of service robotics in Europe and Japan: a comparative analysis, 31 AI Soc. 501–517 (2015).

[7] Pagallo, supra note 5.

[8] Beck, supra note 2.

[9] Eastern book company v D B Modak and Anr, (2008)1 SCC 1.

[10] Andrade et al., supra note 1.

[11] David J. Calverley, Imagining a non-biological machine as a legal person, 22 AI Soc. 523–537 (2008).

[12] Steffen Wettig & Eberhard Zehender, A legal analysis of human and electronic agents, 12 Artif. Intell. Law 111–135 (2004).

[13] Naruto v. Slater, case no. 15-cv-04324-WHO (N.D. calif. 2016)

[14] Beck, supra note 2.

[15] Solaiman, supra note 3.

[16] Id.

[17] Wettig and Zehender, supra note 12.

[18] Dr. Avishek Chakraborty, AUTHORSHIP OF AI GENERATED WORKS UNDER THE COPYRIGHT ACT , 1957 : AN ANALYTICAL STUDY, 8 38 Nirma Univ. Law J. 37–53 (2019).

[19] Id.

[20] Solaiman, supra note 3.

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