Canada: First instance of AI software registered as copyright coauthor

In brief

On 1 December 2021, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office registered a copyrighted work listing artificial intelligence (AI) software as a coauthor. The work, entitled 'SURYAST,' lists 'RAGHAV Artificial Intelligence Painting App' (RAGHAV) as a coauthor.



In Canada, copyright ownership is tied to the 'author' of a work. Where someone creates a copyrightable work, they are generally the first owner, unless they created the work for an employer in the ordinary course of their employment. Where an individual uses a computer program to assist in creating a work, they would typically be considered the author, under the assumption they exercised some personal level of skill or judgment in the creative exercise.

This was not the case for a painting entitled SURYAST, created by Ankit Sahni who owns the RAGHAV AI application. Ankit used RAGHAV to 'create' SURYAST after training it on a Van Gogh dataset. The 1 December 2021 Canadian copyright registration for that work identifies Ankit and RAGHAV as coauthors, and is the first time here that authorship has been attributed to an AI entity instead of a natural person. Notably, India's copyright office earlier rejected a copyright application for SURYAST where RAGHAV was listed as the sole author, but later also accepted a coauthorship application. 

Why does this matter? While Canada's Copyright Act does not define the word 'author,' the prevailing wisdom has been that only a natural person can author a copyrighted work, given the requirement in the case law that such a person exercises some skill and judgment in the creation of a protected work. Thus RAGHAV would not have qualified under long-established principles.

Like many jurisdictions, the Canadian government solicited views on these emerging issues in its July 2021 "Consultation on a Modern Copyright Framework for Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things." There, the government proposed three possible approaches to AI authorship and ownership: (a) attribute authorship of an AI-generated work to the human who arranged for the work to be created, as long as it meets the human authorship threshold; (b) explicitly require human participation in the generation of the work for there to be copyright protection (works generated by AI without human participation would fall into the public domain); or (c) create a new and unique set of rights for AI-generated works, such that the work is deemed 'authorless' but owned by the person responsible for the work.

Where this will lead remains to be seen, although there seems to be a consensus as to the need for clarity if not expansion in the law as AI technologies develop, innovate and create, which will require at least some changes to Canadian copyright legislation, and potentially other IP laws.

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