Generative-AI as Unfair Trade Practice

While Congress and the courts grapple with generative-AI copyright issues, the FTC weighs in on the risks of unfair competition, monopolization, and consumer deception.

Federal Trade Commission headline as illustration for Thomas James article
FTC Press Release exceprt

While Congress and the courts are grappling with the copyright issues that AI has generated, the federal government’s primary consumer watchdog has made a rare entry into the the realm of copyright law. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a Comment with the U.S. Copyright Office suggesting that generative-AI could be (or be used as) an unfair or deceptive trade practice. The Comment was filed in response to the Copyright Office’s request for comments as it prepares to begin rule-making on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly, generative-AI.


The FTC is responsible for enforcing the FTC Act, which broadly prohibits “unfair or deceptive” practices. The Act protects consumers from deceptive and unscrupulous business practices. It is also intended to promote fair and healthy competition in U.S. markets. The Supreme Court has held that all violations of the Sherman Act also violate the FTC Act.

So how does generative-AI raise monopolization concerns? The Comment suggests that incumbents in the generative-AI industry could engage in anti-competitive behavior to ensure continuing and exclusive control over the use of the technology. (More on that here.)

The agency cited the usual suspects: bundling, tying, exclusive or discriminatory dealing, mergers, acquisitions. Those kinds of concerns, of course, are common in any business sector. They are not unique to generative-AI. The FTC also described some things that are matters of special concern in the AI space, though.

Network effects

Because positive feedback loops improve the performance of generative-AI, it gets better as more people use it. This results in concentrated market power in incumbent generative-AI companies with diminishing possibilities for new entrants to the market. According to the FTC, “network effects can supercharge a company’s ability and incentive to engage in unfair methods of competition.”

Platform effects

As AI users come to be dependent on a particular incumbent generative-AI platform, the company that owns the platform could take steps to lock their customers into using their platform exclusively.

Copyrights and AI competition

The FTC Comment indicates that the agency is not only weighing the possibility that AI unfairly harms creators’ ability to compete. (The use of pirated or the misuse of copyrighted materials can be an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act.) It is also considering that generative-AI may deceive, or be used to deceive, consumers. Specifically, the FTC expressed a concern that “consumers may be deceived when authorship does not align with consumer expectations, such as when a consumer thinks a work has been created by a particular musician or other artist, but it has been generated by someone else using an AI tool.” (Comment, page 5.)

In one of my favorite passages in the Comment, the FTC suggests that training AI on protected expression without consent, or selling output generated “in the style of” a particular writer or artist, may be an unfair method of competition, “especially when the copyright violation deceives consumers, exploits a creator’s reputation or diminishes the value of her existing or future works….” (Comment, pages 5 – 6).

Fair Use

The significance of the FTC’s injection of itself into the generative-AI copyright fray cannot be overstated. It is extremely likely that during their legislative and rule-making deliberations, both Congress and the Copyright Office are going to be focusing the lion’s share of their attention on the fair use doctrine. They are most likely going to try to allow generative-AI outfits to continue to infringe copyrights (It is already a multi-billion-dollar industry, after all, and with obvious potential political value), while at the same time imposing at least some kinds of limitations to preserve a few shards of the copyright system. Maybe they will devise a system of statutory licensing like they did when online streaming — and the widespread copyright infringement it facilitated– became a thing.

Whatever happens, the overarching question for Congress is going to be, “What kinds of copyright infringement should be considered “fair” use.

Copyright fair use normally is assessed using a four-prong test set out in the Copyright Act. Considerations about unfair competition arguably are subsumed within the fourth factor in that analysis – the effect the infringing use has on the market for the original work.

The other objective of the FTC Act – protecting consumers from deception — does not neatly fit into one of the four statutory factors for copyright fair use. I believe a good argument can be made that it should come within the coverage of the first prong of the four-factor test: the purpose and character of the use. The task for Congress and the Copyright Office, then, should be to determine which particular purposes and kinds of uses of generative-AI should be thought of as fair. There is no reason the Copyright Office should avoid considering Congress’s objectives, expressed in the FTC Act and other laws, when making that determination.

Case Update: Andersen v. Stability AI

Artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz filed a class action lawsuit against Stability AI, DeviantArt, and MidJourney in federal district court alleging causes of action for copyright infringement, removal or alteration of copyright management information, and violation of publicity rights. (Andersen, et al. v. Stability AI Ltd. et al., No. 23-cv-00201-WHO (N.D. Calif. 2023).) The claims relate to the defendants’ alleged unlicensed use of their copyright-protected artistic works in generative-AI systems.

On October 30, 2023, U.S. district judge William H. Orrick dismissed all claims except for Andersen’s direct infringement claim against Stability. Most of the dismissals, however, were granted with leave to amend.

The Claims

McKernan’s and Ortiz’s copyright infringement claims

The judge dismissed McKernan’s and Ortiz’s copyright infringement claims because they did not register the copyrights in their works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

I criticized the U.S. requirement of registration as a prerequisite to the enforcement of a domestic copyright in a U.S. court in a 2019 Illinois Law Review article (“Copyright Enforcement: Time to Abolish the Pre-Litigation Registration Requirement.”) This is a uniquely American requirement. Moreover, the requirement does not apply to foreign works. This has resulted in the anomaly that foreign authors have an easier time enforcing the copyrights in their works in the United States than U.S. authors do. Nevertheless, until Congress acts to change this, it is still necessary for U.S. authors to register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office before they can enforce their copyrights in U.S. courts.  

Since there was no claim that McKernan or Ortiz had registered their copyrights, the judge had no real choice under current U.S. copyright law but to dismiss their claims.

Andersen’s copyright infringement claim against Stability

Andersen’s complaint alleges that she “owns a copyright interest in over two hundred Works included in the Training Data” and that Stability used some of them as training data. Defendants moved to dismiss this claim because it failed to specifically identify which of those works had been registered. The judge, however, determined that her attestation that some of her registered works had been used as training images sufficed, for pleading purposes.  A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint to state a claim; it does not test the truth or falsity of the assertions made in a pleading. Stability can attempt to disprove the assertion later in the proceeding. Accordingly, Judge Orrick denied Stability’s motion to dismiss Andersen’s direct copyright infringement claim.

Andersen’s copyright infringement claims against DeviantArt and MidJourney

The complaint alleges that Stability created and released a software program called Stable Diffusion and that it downloaded copies of billions of copyrighted images (known as “training images”), without permission, to create it. Stability allegedly used the services of LAION (LargeScale Artificial Intelligence Open Network) to scrape the images from the Internet. Further, the complaint alleges, Stable Diffusion is a “software library” providing image-generating service to the other defendants named in the complaint. DeviantArt offers an online platform where artists can upload their works. In 2022, it released a product called “DreamUp” that relies on Stable Diffusion to produce images. The complaint alleges that artwork the plaintiffs uploaded to the DeviantArt site was scraped into the LAION database and then used to train Stable Diffusion. MidJourney is also alleged to have used the Stable Diffusion library.

Judge Orrick granted the motion to dismiss the claims of direct infringement against DeviantArt and MidJourney, with leave to amend the complaint to clarify the theory of liability.

DMCA claims

The complaint makes allegations about unlawful removal of copyright management information in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Judge Orrick found the complaint deficient in this respect, but granted leave to amend to clarify which defendant(s) are alleged to have done this, when it allegedly occurred, and what specific copyright management information was allegedly removed.

Publicity rights claims

 Plaintiffs allege that the defendants used their names in their products by allowing users to request the generation of artwork “in the style of” their names. Judge Orrick determined the complaint did not plead sufficient factual allegations to state a claim. Accordingly, he dismissed the claim, with leave to amend. In a footnote, the court deferred to a later time the question whether the Copyright Act preempts the publicity claims.

In addition, DeviantArt filed a motion to strike under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute. The court deferred decision on that motion until after the Plaintiffs have had time to file an amended complaint.

Unfair competition claims

The court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claims of unfair competition, with leave to amend.

Breach of contract claim against DeviantArt

Plaintiffs allege that DeviantArt violated its own Terms of Service in connection with their DreamUp product and alleged scraping of works users upload to the site. This claim, too, was dismissed with leave to amend.


Media reports have tended to overstate the significance of Judge Orrick’s October 30, 2023 Order. Reports of the death of the lawsuit are greatly exaggerated. It would have been nice if greater attention had been paid to the registration requirement during the drafting of the complaint, but the lawsuit nevertheless is still very much alive. We won’t really know whether it will remain that way unless and until the plaintiffs amend the complaint – which they are almost certainly going to do.

Need help with copyright registration? Contact attorney Tom James.

The Top 3 Generative-AI Copyright Issues

Black hole consuming a star. Photo credit: NASA.

What are your favorite generative-AI copyright issues? In this capsule summary, Cokato attorney Tom James shares what his three favorites are.

Generative artificial intelligence refers collectively to technology that is capable of generating new text, images, audio/visual and possibly other content in response to a user’s prompts. They are trained by feeding them mass quantities of ABC (already-been-created) works. Some of America’s biggest mega-corporations have invested billions of dollars into this technology. They are now facing a barrage of lawsuits, most of them asserting claims of copyright infringement.

Issue #1: Does AI Output Infringe Copyrights?

Copyrights give their owners an exclusive right to reproduce their copyright-protected works and to create derivative works based on them. If a generative-AI user prompts the service to reproduce the text of a pre-existing work, and it proceeds to do so, this could implicate the exclusive right of reproduction. If a generative-AI user prompts it to create a work in the style of another work and/or author, this could implicate the exclusive right to create derivative works.

To establish infringement, it will be necessary to prove copying. Two identical but independently created works may each be protected by copyright. Put another way, a person is not guilty of infringement merely by creating a work that is identical or similar to another if he/she/it came up with it completely on his/her/its own.

Despite “training” their proteges on existing works, generative-AI outfits deny that their tools actually copy any of them. They say that any similarity to any existing works, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Thus, OpenAI has stated that copyright infringement “is an unlikely accidental outcome.”

The “accidental outcome” defense seems to me like a hard one to swallow in those cases where a prompt involves creating a story involving a specified fictional character that enjoys copyright protection. If the character is distinctive enough — and a piece of work in and of itself, so to speak — to enjoy copyright protection (such as, say, Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series), then any generated output would seem to be an unauthorized derivative work, at least if the AI tool is any good.

If AI output infringes a copyright in an existing work, who would be liable for it? Potentially, the person who entered the prompt might be held liable for direct infringement. The AI tool provider might arguably be liable for contributory infringement.

Issue #2: Does AI Training Infringe Copyrights?

AI systems are “trained” to create works by exposing a computer program system to large numbers of existing works downloaded from the Internet.

When content is downloaded from the Internet, a copy of it is made. This process will “involve the reproduction of entire works or substantial portions thereof.” OpenAI, for example, acknowledges that its programs are trained on “large, publicly available datasets that include copyrighted works” and that this process “involves first making copies of the data to be analyzed….” Making these copies without permission may infringe the copyright holders’ exclusive right to make reproductions of their works.

Generative-AI outfits tend to argue that the training process is fair use.

Fair use claims require consideration of four statutory factors:

  • the purpose and character of the use;
  • the nature of the work copied;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion copied; and
  • the effect on the market for the work.

OpenAI relies on the precedent set in Authors Guild v. Google for its invocation of “fair use.” That case involved Google’s copying of the entire text of books to construct its popular searchable database.

A number of lawsuits currently pending in the courts are raising the question whether and how, the AI training process is “fair use.”

Issue #3: Are AI-Generated Works Protected by Copyright?

The Copyright Act affords copyright protection to “original works of authorship.” The U.S. Copyright Office recognizes copyright only in works “created by a human being.” Courts, too, have declined to extend copyright protection to nonhuman authors. (Remember the monkey selfie case?) A recent copyright registration applicant has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Copyright Office alleging that the Office wrongfully denied registration of an AI-generated work. A federal court has now rejected his argument that human authorship is not required for copyright ownership.

In March 2023, the Copyright Office released guidance stating that when AI “determines the expressive elements of its output, the generated material is not the product of human authorship.” Moreover, an argument might be made that a general prompt, such as “create a story about a dog in the style of Jack London,” is an idea, not expression. It is well settled that only expression gets copyright protection; ideas do not.

In September 2023, the Copyright Office Review Board affirmed the Office’s refusal to register a copyright in a work that was generated by Midjourney and then modified by the applicant, on the basis that the applicant did not disclaim the AI-generated material.

The Office also has the power to cancel improvidently granted registrations. (Words to the wise: Disclose and disclaim.)

These are my favorite generative-AI legal issues. What are yours?

AI Legislative Update

Congressional legislation to regulate artificial intelligence (“AI”) and AI companies is in the early formative stages. Just about the only thing that is certain at this point is that federal regulation in the United States is coming.

Congressional legislation to regulate artificial intelligence (“AI”) and AI companies is in the early formative stages. Just about the only thing that is certain at this point is that federal regulation in the United States is coming.

In August, 2023, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a Bipartisan Framework for U.S. AI Act. The Framework sets out five bullet points identifying Congressional legislative objectives:

  • Establish a federal regulatory regime implemented through licensing AI companies, to include requirements that AI companies provide information about their AI models and maintain “risk management, pre-deployment testing, data governance, and adverse incident reporting programs.”
  • Ensure accountability for harms through both administrative enforcement and private rights of action, where “harms” include private or civil right violations. The Framework proposes making Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act inapplicable to these kinds of actions. (Second 230 is the provision that generally grants immunity to Facebook, Google and other online service providers for user-provided content.) The Framework identifies the harms about which it is most concerned as “explicit deepfake imagery of real people, production of child sexual abuse material from generative A.I. and election interference.” Noticeably absent is any mention of harms caused by copyright infringement.
  • Restrict the sharing of AI technology with Russia, China or other “adversary nations.”
  • Promote transparency: The Framework would require AI companies to disclose information about the limitations, accuracy and safety of their AI models to users; would give consumers a right to notice when they are interacting with an AI system; would require providers to watermark or otherwise disclose AI-generated deepfakes; and would establish a public database of AI-related “adverse incidents” and harm-causing failures.
  • Protect consumers and kids. “Consumer should have control over how their personal data is used in A.I. systems and strict limits should be imposed on generative A.I. involving kids.”

The Framework does not address copyright infringement, whether of the input or the output variety.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law held a hearing on September 12, 2023. Witnesses called to testify generally approved of the Framework as a starting point.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security also held a hearing on September 12, called The Need for Transparency in Artificial Intelligence. One of the witnesses, Dr. Ramayya Krishnan, Carnegie Mellon University, did raise a concern about the use of copyrighted material by AI systems and the economic harm it causes for creators.

On September 13, 2023, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held an “AI Roundtable.” Invited attendees present at the closed-door session included Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elon Musk (xAI, Neuralink, etc.) Sundar Pichai (Google), Charlie Rivkin (MPA), and Mark Zuckerberg (Meta). Gates, whose Microsoft company, like those headed by some of the other invitees, has been investing heavily in generative-AI development, touted the claim that AI could target world hunger.

Meanwhile, Dana Rao, Adobe’s Chief Trust Officer, penned a proposal that Congress establish a federal anti-impersonation right to address the economic harms generative-AI causes when it impersonates the style or likeness of an author or artist. The proposed law would be called the Federal Anti-Impersonation Right Act, or “FAIR Act,” for short. The proposal would provide for the recovery of statutory damages by artists who are unable to prove actual economic damages.

Generative AI: Perfect Tool for the Age of Deception

For many reasons, the new millennium might well be described as the Age of Deception. Cokato Copyright Attorney Tom James explains why generative-AI is a perfect fit for it.

Illustrating generative AI
Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

What is generative AI?

“AI,” of course, stands for artificial intelligence. Generative AI is a variety of it that can produce content such as text and images, seemingly of its own creation. I say “seemingly” because in reality these kinds of AI tools are not really independently creating these images and lines of text. Rather, they are “trained” to emulate existing works created by humans. Essentially, they are derivative work generation machines that enable the creation of derivative works based on potentially millions of human-created works.

AI has been around for decades. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that the technology began to be refined to the point that it could generate text, images, video and audio so similar to real people and their creations that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to tell the difference.

Rapid advances in the technology in the past few years have yielded generative-AI tools that can write entire stories and articles, seemingly paint artistic images, and even generate what appear to be photographic images of people.

AI “hallucinations” (aka lies)

In the AI field, a “hallucination” occurs when an AI tool (such as ChatGPT) generates a confident response that is not justified by the data on which it has been trained.

For example, I queried ChatGPT about whether a company owned equally by a husband and wife could qualify for the preferences the federal government sets aside for women-owned businesses. The chatbot responded with something along the lines of “Certainly” or “Absolutely,” explaining that the U.S. government is required to provide equal opportunities to all people without discriminating on the basis of sex, or something along those lines. When I cited the provision of federal law that contradicts what the chatbot had just asserted, it replied with an apology and something to the effect of “My bad.”

I also asked ChatGPT if any U.S. law imposes unequal obligations on male citizens. The chatbot cheerily reported back to me that no, no such laws exist. I then cited the provision of the United States Code that imposes an obligation to register for Selective Service only upon male citizens. The bot responded that while that is true, it is unimportant and irrelevant because there has not been a draft in a long time and there is not likely to be one anytime soon. I explained to the bot that this response was irrelevant. Young men can be, and are, denied the right to government employment and other civic rights and benefits if they fail to register, regardless of whether a draft is in place or not, and regardless of whether they are prosecuted criminally or not. At this point, ChatGPT announced that it would not be able to continue this conversation with me. In addition, it made up some excuse. I don’t remember what it was, but it was something like too many users were currently logged on.

These are all examples of AI hallucinations. If a human being were to say them, we would call them “lies.”

Generating lie after lie

AI tools regularly concoct lies. For example, when asked to generate a financial statement for a company, a popular AI tool falsely stated that the company’s revenue was some number it apparently had simply made up. According to Slate, in their article, “The Alarming Deceptions at the Heart of an Astounding New Chatbot,” users of large language models like ChatGPT have been complaining that these tools randomly insert falsehoods into the text they generate. Experts now consider frequent “hallucination” (aka lying) to be a major problem in chatbots.

ChatGPT has also generated fake case precedents, replete with plausible-sounding citations. This phenomenon made the news when Stephen Schwartz submitted six fake ChatGPT-generated case precedents in his brief to the federal district court for the Southern District of New York in Mata v. Avianca. Schwartz reported that ChatGPT continued to insist the fake cases were authentic even after their nonexistence was discovered. The judge proceeded to ban the submission of AI-generated filings that have not been reviewed by a human, saying that generative-AI tools

are prone to hallucinations and bias…. [T]hey make stuff up – even quotes and citations. Another issue is reliability or bias. While attorneys swear an oath to set aside their personal prejudices,… generative artificial intelligence is the product of programming devised by humans who did not have to swear such an oath. As such, these systems hold no allegiance to…the truth.

Judge Brantley Starr, Mandatory Certification Regarding Generative Artificial Intelligence.

Facilitating defamation

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally shields Facebook, Google and other online services from liability for providing a platform for users to publish false and defamatory information about other people. That has been a real boon for people who like to destroy other people’s reputations by means of spreading lies and misinformation about them online. It can be difficult and expensive to sue an individual for defamation, particularly when the individual has taken steps to conceal and/or lie about his or her identity. Generative AI tools make the job of defaming people even simpler and easier.

More concerning than the malicious defamatory liars, however, are the many people who earnestly rely on AI as a research tool. In July, 2023, Mark Walters filed a lawsuit against OpenAI, claiming its ChatGPT tool provided false and defamatory misinformation about him to journalist Fred Riehl. I wrote about this lawsuit in a previous blog post. Shortly after this lawsuit was filed, a defamation lawsuit was filed against Microsoft, alleging that its AI tool, too, had generated defamatory lies about an individual. Generative-AI tools can generate false and defamation statements about individuals even if no one has any intention of defaming anyone or ruining another person’s reputation.

Facilitating false light invasion of privacy

Generative AI is also highly effective in portraying people in a false light. In one recently filed lawsuit, Jack Flora and others allege, among other things, that Prisma Labs’ Lensa app generates sexualized images from images of fully-clothed people, and that the company failed to notify users about the biometric data it collects and how it will be stored and/or destroyed. Flora et al. v. Prisma Labs, Inc., No. 23-cv-00680 (N.D. Calif. February 15, 2023).

Pot, meet kettle; kettle, pot

“False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. . . . At Meta, we’re working to fight the spread of false news.” Meta (nee Facebook) published that statement back in 2017.  Since then, it has engaged in what is arguably the most ambitious campaign in history to monitor and regulate the content of conversations among humans. Yet, it has also joined other mega-organizations Google and Microsoft in investing multiple billions of dollars in what is the greatest boon to fake news in recorded history: generative-AI.

Toward a braver new world

It would be difficult to imagine a more efficient method of facilitating widespread lying and deception (not to mention false and hateful rhetoric) – and therefore propaganda – than generative-AI. Yet, these mega-organizations continue to sink more and more money into further development and deployment of these lie-generators.

I dread what the future holds in store for our children and theirs.

Another AI lawsuit against Microsoft and OpenAI

Last June, Microsoft, OpenAI and others were hit with a class action lawsuit involving their AI data-scraping technologies. On Tuesday (September 5, 2023) another class action lawsuit was filed against them. The gravamen of both of these complaints is that these companies allegedly trained their AI technologies using personal information from millions of users, in violation of federal and state privacy statutes and other laws.

Among the laws alleged to have been violated are the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act, California’s unfair competition law, Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The lawsuits also allege a variety of common law claims, including negligence, invasion of privacy, conversion, unjust enrichment, breach of the duty to warn, and such.

This is just the most recent lawsuit in a growing body of claims against big AI. Many involve allegations of copyright infringement, but privacy is a growing concern. This particular suit is asking for an award of monetary damages and an order that would require the companies to implement safeguards for the protection of private data.

Microsoft reportedly has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI and its app, ChatGPT.

The case is A.T. v. OpenAI LP, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:23-cv-04557 (September 5, 2023).

Is Microsoft “too big to fail” in court? We shall see.

A Recent Exit from Paradise

Over a year ago, Steven Thaler filed an application with the United States Copyright Office to register a copyright in an AI-generated image called “A Recent Entrance to Paradise.” In the application, he listed a machine as the “author” and himself as the copyright owner. The Copyright Office refused registration  on the grounds that the work lacked human authorship. Thaler then filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn that determination. On August 18, 2023 the court upheld the Copyright Office’s refusal of registration. The case is Thaler v. Perlmutter, No. CV 22-1564 (BAH), 2023 WL 5333236 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2023).

Read more about the history of this case in my previous blog post, “A Recent Entrance to Complexity.”

The Big Bright Green Creativity Machine

In his application for registration, Thaler had listed his computer, referred to as “Creativity Machine,” as the “author” of the work, and himself as a claimant. The Copyright Office denied registration on the basis that copyright only protects human authorship.

Taking the Copyright Office to court

Unsuccessful in securing a reversal through administrative appeals, Thaler filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the Office’s denial of registration was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law….”

The court ultimately sided with the Copyright Office. In its decision, it provided a cogent explanation of the rationale for the human authorship requirement:

The act of human creation—and how to best encourage human individuals to engage in that creation, and thereby promote science and the useful arts—was thus central to American copyright from its very inception. Non-human actors need no incentivization with the promise of exclusive rights under United States law, and copyright was therefore not designed to reach them.


A Complex Issue

As I discussed in a previous blog post, the issue is not as simple as it might seem. There are different levels of human involvement in the use of an AI content generating mechanism. At one extreme, there are programs like “Paint,” in which users provide a great deal of input. These kinds of programs may be analogized to paintbrushes, pens and other tools that artists traditionally have used to express their ideas on paper or canvas. Word processing programs are also in this category. It is easy to conclude that the users of these kinds of programs are the authors of works that may be sufficiently creative and original to receive copyright protection.

At the other end of the spectrum are AI services like DALL-E and ChatGPT. These tools are capable of generating content with very little user input. If the only human input is a user’s directive to “Draw a picture,” then it would be difficult to claim that the author contributed any creative expression. That is to say, it would be difficult to claim that the user authored anything.

The difficult question – and one that is almost certain to be the subject of ongoing litigation and probably new Copyright Office regulations – is exactly how much, and what kind of, human input is necessary before a human can claim authorship.  Equally as perplexing is how much, if at all, the Copyright Office should involve itself in ascertaining and evaluating the details of the process by which a work was created. And, of course, what consequences should flow from an applicant’s failure to disclose complete details about the nature and extent of machine involvement in the creative process.


The court in this case did not dive into these issues. The only thing we can safely take away from this decision is the broad proposition that a work is not protected by copyright to the extent it is generated by a machine.

A copyright win in the Internet Archive lawsuit

Book publishers have won their lawsuit against the Internet Archive. What does it mean for copyright owners? Cokato Copyright Attorney Tom James explains.

New York Public Library public domain image; this is NOT the library that is involved in this lawsuit.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about a lawsuit that book publishers Hachette Book Group et al. have filed against Internet Archive (“IA”) et al. The lawsuit alleges that IA scans copyright-protected printed books into a digital format, uploads them to its servers, and distributes these digital copies to members of the public via a website – all without a license and without paying the authors and publishers. The lawsuit asserts claims of copyright infringement.

A permanent injunction

Judge John Koeltl has now approved a consent judgment providing for a permanent injunction that prohibits Internet Archive from scanning and distributing copyrighted books. It applies only to books that copyright owners have already published and made available in e-book format. As Judge Koeltl put it: “The Court has narrowly tailored the injunctive relief in this case to cover only copyrighted works, like the Works in Suit, that are available from the Publishers in electronic form.”

IA reportedly plans to appeal.

A new lawsuit

This month, Sony Music Entertainment et al. filed a similar copyright infringement lawsuit against IA. This complaint alleges that IA digitized and distributed digital copies of 78 rpm records by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and other recording artists in violation of the rights of copyright owners.

Sham Books: The latest generative-AI scam

Copyright issues raised by generative-AI (artificial intelligence) have been receiving extensive coverage and discussion lately. Generative-AI has given rise to another kind of problem, too, though. People are generating books “in the style of” books by well-known authors and marketing them to the public as if they were written by those authors when in fact they were not.

Fake books

Jane Friedman was one of the first to report the problem of AI-generated fake books.

The way it works is this: A person asks a generative-AI tool to write a book in the style of a particular named author. Usually it is a well-known author and/or one whose books sell well. The person then creates a listing on Amazon or another online marketplace for the book, misrepresenting it to be the work of the named author rather than AI-generated. Proceeds from sales of these unauthorized knock-offs are then shared between the marketplace provider (Amazon, eBay, etc.) and the fraudster.

Removal difficulties

It can be difficult for an author to get these knock-offs removed. Of course, if you are able to prove that one of these sham books infringes the copyright in one of your works, that should provide a basis for removal. In many cases, however, it can be difficult to prove that an AI-generated book actually copied from any particular book. A book “in the style of” so-and-so might have a completely different setting, plot, characters and so on. Generative-AI tools can generate a book on a theme that a named author commonly writes about, but copyright cannot be claimed in themes.

Trademark law is not necessarily of much help, either. Publishing under a name under which someone else is already publishing is not illegal. In fact, it is quite common. For example, five different people named Scott Adams publish under that name.

The sham books not being pirated or counterfeit copies of any existing work, and an author not having secured a trademark registration in his or her name (not always possible), can be obstacles to getting a title removed on the basis of copyright or trademark infringement.

The Lanham Act

The Lanham Act, sometimes called the Trademark Act, is a federal law that prohibits a wider range of activity than merely trademark infringement. It prohibits false and misleading designations of origin (false advertising), as well, including attempts to pass off a product as somebody else’s. No trademark registration is necessary for these kinds of Lanham Act claims.

These provisions offer a small glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, these kinds of claims are not as easy for marketplace providers like Amazon to sort out, as compared with a claim that someone is using a trademark that is confusingly similar to one that has been registered.

Other legal remedies

The Copyright Act and Lanham Act are not the only possible sources of legal recourse. Book authorship fraud is likely unlawful under state unfair competition and deceptive trade practices laws. In many jurisdictions, a claim for damages for misappropriation of name or likeness, or of exclusive publicity rights, may be viable.

As a practical matter, though, these rights may be difficult to enforce. Marketplace providers are equipped to handle claims where someone is able to produce a trademark or copyright registration certificate to support their claims, but they are not courts. They are not equipped to decide the kinds of fact issues that typically need to be decided in order to resolve competing claims to rights in a work, or likelihood of confusion and so on.

This seems to me to be yet another aspect of generative-AI that is ripe for legislation.

Photograph by Martin Vorel,, via Wikimedia Commons. The image has not been modified. No suggestion is made that the licensor endorses this author or this use.

Generative-AI: The Top 12 Lawsuits

Artificial intelligence (“AI”) is generating more than content; it is generating lawsuits. Here is a brief chronology of what I believe are the most significant lawsuits that have been filed so far.

Artificial intelligence (“AI”) is generating more than content; it is generating lawsuits. Here is a brief chronology of what I believe are the most significant lawsuits that have been filed so far.

Most of these allege copyright infringement, but some make additional or other kinds of claims, such as trademark, privacy or publicity right violations, defamation, unfair competition, and breach of contract, among others. So far, the suits primarily target the developers and purveyors of generative AI chatbots and similar technology. They focus more on what I call “input” than on “output” copyright infringement. That is to say, they allege that copyright infringement is involved in the way particular AI tools are trained.

Thomson Reuters Enterprise Centre GmbH et al. v. ROSS Intelligence (May, 2020)

Thomson Reuters Enterprise Centre GmbH et al. v. ROSS Intelligence Inc., No. 20-cv-613 (D. Del. 2020)

Thomson Reuters alleges that ROSS Intelligence copied its Westlaw database without permission and used it to train a competing AI-driven legal research platform. In defense, ROSS has asserted that it only copied ideas and facts from the Westlaw database of legal research materials. (Facts and ideas are not protected by copyright.) ROSS also argues that its use of content in the Westlaw database is fair use.

One difference between this case and subsequent generative-AI copyright infringement cases is that the defendant in this case is alleged to have induced a third party with a Westlaw license to obtain allegedly proprietary content for the defendant after the defendant had been denied a license of its own. Other cases involve generative AI technologies that operate by scraping publicly available content.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. While those motions were pending, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 598 U.S. ___, 143 S. Ct. 1258 (2023). The parties have now filed supplemental briefs asserting competing arguments about whether and how the Court’s treatment of transformative use in that case should be interpreted and applied in this case. A decision on the motions is expected soon.

Doe 1 et al. v. GitHub et al. (November, 2022)

Doe 1 et al. v. GitHub, Inc. et al., No. 22-cv-06823 (N.D. Calif. November 3, 2022)

This is a class action lawsuit against GitHub, Microsoft, and OpenAI that was filed in November, 2022. It involves GitHub’s CoPilot, an AI-powered tool that suggests lines of programming code based on what a programmer has written. The complaint alleges that Copilot copies code from publicly available software repositories without complying with the terms of applicable open-source licenses. The complaint also alleges removal of copyright management information in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202, unfair competition, and other tort claims.

Andersen et al. v. Stability AI et al. (January 13, 2023)

Andersen et al. v. Stability AI et al., No. 23-cv-00201 (N.D. Calif. Jan. 13, 2023)

Artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz filed this class action lawsuit against generative-AI companies Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt on January 13, 2023. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants infringed their copyrights by using their artwork without permission to train AI-powered image generators to create allegedly infringing derivative works.  The lawsuit also alleges violations of 17 U.S.C. § 1202 and publicity rights, breach of contract, and unfair competition.

Getty Images v. Stability AI (February 3, 2023)

Getty Images v. Stability AI, No. 23-cv-00135-UNA (D. Del. February 23, 2023)

Getty Images has filed two lawsuits against Stability AI, one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States, each alleging both input and output copyright infringement. Getty Images owns the rights to millions of images. It is in the business of licensing rights to use copies of the images to others. The lawsuit also accuses Stability AI of falsifying, removing or altering copyright management information, trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices.

Stability AI has moved to dismiss the complaint filed in the U.S. for lack of jurisdiction.

Flora et al. v. Prisma Labs (February 15, 2023)

Flora et al. v. Prisma Labs, Inc., No. 23-cv-00680 (N.D. Calif. February 15, 2023)

Jack Flora and others filed a class action lawsuit against Prisma Labs for invasion of privacy. The complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendant’s Lensa app generates sexualized images from images of fully-clothed people, and that the company failed to notify users about the biometric data it collects and how it will be stored and/or destroyed, in violation of Illinois’s data privacy laws.

Young v. NeoCortext (April 3, 2023)

Young v. NeoCortext, Inc., 2023-cv-02496 (C.D. Calif. April 3, 2023)

This is a publicity rights case. NeoCortext’s Reface app allows users to paste images of their own faces over those of celebrities in photographs and videos. Kyland Young, a former cast member of the Big Brother reality television show, has sued NeoCortext for allegedly violating his publicity rights. The complaint alleges that NeoCortext has “commercially exploit[ed] his and thousands of other actors, musicians, athletes, celebrities, and other well-known individuals’ names, voices, photographs, or likenesses to sell paid subscriptions to its smartphone application, Refacewithout their permission.”

NeoCortext has asserted a First Amendment defense, among others.

Walters v. Open AI (June 5, 2023)

Walters v. OpenAI, LLC, No. 2023-cv-03122 (N.D. Ga. July 14, 2023) (Complaint originally filed in Gwinnett County, Georgia Superior Court on June 5, 2023; subsequently removed to federal court)

This is a defamation action against OpenAI, the company responsible for ChatGPT. The lawsuit was brought by Mark Walters. He alleges that ChatGPT provided false and defamatory misinformation about him to journalist Fred Riehl in connection with a federal civil rights lawsuit against Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and members of his staff. ChatGPT allegedly stated that the lawsuit was one for fraud and embezzlement on the part of Mr. Walters. The complaint alleges that Mr. Walters was “neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the lawsuit,” and “every statement of fact” pertaining to him in the summary of the federal lawsuit that ChatGPT prepared is false. A New York court recently addressed the questions of sanctions for attorneys who submit briefs containing citations to non-existent “precedents” that were entirely made up by ChatGPT. This is the first case to address tort liability for ChatGPT’s notorious creation of “hallucinatory facts.”

In July, 2023, Jeffrey Battle filed a complaint against Microsoft in Maryland alleging that he, too, has been defamed as a result of AI-generated “hallucinatory facts.”

P.M. et al. v. OpenAI et al. (June 28, 2023)

P.M. et al. v. OpenAI LP et al., No. 2023-cv-03199 (N.D. Calif. June 28, 2023)

This lawsuit has been brought by underage individuals against OpenAI and Microsoft. The complaint alleges the defendants’ generative-AI products ChatGPT, Dall-E and Vall-E collect private and personally identifiable information from children without their knowledge or informed consent. The complaint sets out claims for alleged violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act; the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; California’s Invasion of Privacy Act and unfair competition law; Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act; New York General Business Law § 349 (deceptive trade practices); and negligence, invasion of privacy, conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of duty to warn.

Tremblay v. OpenAI (June 28, 2023)

Tremblay v. OpenAI, Inc., No. 23-cv-03223 (N.D. Calif. June 28, 2023)

Another copyright infringement lawsuit against OpenAI relating to its ChatGPT tool. In this one, authors allege that ChatGPT is trained on the text of books they and other proposed class members authored, and facilitates output copyright infringement. The complaint sets forth claims of copyright infringement, DMCA violations, and unfair competition.

Silverman et al. v. OpenAI (July 7, 2023)

Silverman et al. v. OpenAI, No. 23-cv-03416 (N.D. Calif. July 7, 2023)

Sarah Silverman (comedian/actress/writer) and others allege that OpenAI, by using copyright-protected works without permission to train ChatGPT, committed direct and vicarious copyright infringement, violated section 17 U.S.C. 1202(b), and their rights under unfair competition, negligence, and unjust enrichment law.

Kadrey et al. v. Meta Platforms (July 7, 2023)

Kadrey et al. v. Meta Platforms, No. 2023-cv-03417 (N.D. Calif. July 7, 2023)

The same kinds of allegations as are made in Silverman v. OpenAI, but this time against Meta Platforms, Inc.

J.L. et al. v. Alphabet (July 11, 2023)

J.L. et al. v. Alphabet, Inc. et al. (N.D. Calif. July 11, 2023)

This is a lawsuit against Google and its owner Alphabet, Inc. for allegedly scraping and harvesting private and personal user information, copyright-protected works, and emails, without notice or consent. The complaint alleges claims for invasion of privacy, unfair competition, negligence, copyright infringement, and other causes of action.

On the Regulatory Front

The U.S. Copyright Office is examining the problems associated with registering copyrights in works that rely, in whole or in part, on artificial intelligence. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has suggested that generative-AI implicates “competition concerns.”. Lawmakers in the United States and the European Union are considering legislation to regulate AI in various ways.

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