Why a Chinese court’s landmark decision recognising the copyright for an AI-generated image benefits creators in this nascent field

A Chinese court’s decision recognising the copyright of an image generated via artificial intelligence (AI) aims to encourage such creations and provide a boost to this nascent industry, according to the judge who made the landmark ruling.
In the first judgment of its kind in mainland China, the Beijing Internet Court last November ruled that a picture, generated via the text-to-image software Stable Diffusion, should be considered an artwork under the protection of copyright laws, because of the “originality” and intellectual input of its human creator.

Assigning generative AI content a legal status under certain conditions in this case is aimed at encouraging people to create with new tools, presiding judge Zhu Ge said last week at a lecture that was first reported on Monday by Chinese online news outlet The Paper.

“If no content created with AI models can be considered artwork, this would deal a blow to the industry,” Zhu was quoted as saying in the report.

The original artificial intelligence-generated image of an Asian lady, left, was at the centre of an intellectual property dispute adjudicated by the Beijing Internet Court on November 27, 2023. To the right of the picture are three images generated during the process of creating the final one that was the subject of infringement. Photo: Xiaohongshu/Stable Diffusion AI

Although the ruling has added fuel to heated arguments on whether AI-generated content should be protected by copyright laws, the Beijing Internet Court has asserted that future disputes about an author’s personal expression in images created with AI’s help should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

The intellectual property infringement lawsuit was initiated in May last year by the plaintiff surnamed Li, who used the US start-up StabilityAI’s Stable Diffusion program to create an image of a young Asian woman and posted it on Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu.
Li sued a blogger surnamed Liu for allegedly using that image without permission in a post on Baijiahao, a Chinese content-sharing platform owned by Baidu.

The court subsequently ruled in favour of Li. It said Li’s AI-generated image was an artwork, based on how he had continuously added prompts and repeatedly adjusted the parameters to come up with a picture that reflected his “aesthetic choice and personalised judgment”.

Beijing court rules AI-generated content covered by copyright, eschews US stand

The court ordered the defendant Liu to issue a public apology as well as pay the plaintiff 500 yuan (US$70.43) in damages and 50 yuan for court fees.

Zhu, the presiding judge, said in her lecture that the ruling was made with the potential implications for “emerging industries” in mind, according to The Paper’s report. It said Zhu hoped her decision in the case could serve as a reference for future disputes.

China’s generative AI industry is forecast to contribute 30 trillion yuan worth of economic value by 2035, accounting for a third of the industry’s global value of 90 trillion yuan, according to a report by the CCID Group, a research unit affiliated with Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Many Chinese tech firms have also ramped up their efforts to grow their businesses using generative AI. Chinese delivery services giant Meituan, for example, recently launched Wow, a chatbot that purports to respond to user questions with a personal touch.

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