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Virtual victory: Chinese court values human 'intellectual investment' in AI-generated image dispute

By Liang Shuang | | Updated: 2023-11-30 21:29
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A Chinese court has ruled in favor of a man who accused a woman of using an image he generated using artificial intelligence programs without his permission.

The case, believed to be the first of its kind in China, involves a plaintiff surnamed Li and a defendant surnamed Liu. Li claimed that Liu used an image of a woman in her personal webpage without his permission in February. Li said he had generated the image using open-source software and posted it on his own social media account.

Liu argued that she found the image by using a search engine and did not see any watermark or information about its copyright owner. She also said she was not using the image for commercial purposes.

However, the Beijing Internet Court ruled in favor of Li, saying that the image showed "intellectual investment" by Li. The court said that Li had input keywords on the expectations of the image, such as the appearance and posture of the woman, filter of the image, and the lighting. Li had also invested in fine-tuning the draft images to get the ultimate image that he had chosen.

The court compared the case to smartphone cameras, saying that even though smartphone cameras have become increasingly powerful, photos taken using them are still considered intellectual work and protected by copyright law as long as they display original intellectual investment.

The court also said that when people use AI modes to generate an image, it is still a person using a tool to create, and that it is the person — not AI — who invested intellectually.

Therefore, the court ruled that Liu should apologize to Li and pay him compensation.

Li Zhenwu, a lawyer at Shanghai Lizhen Law Firm, said that the judge had meticulously explained the participation of the plaintiff in the image-generating process, therefore it showed that the person's participation values heavily in deeming whether a person is entitled to the copyright of an AI-generated image.

However, he emphasized that the copyright rule in this case does not apply to every AI-generated image, especially those directly generated by AI with just vague, common keywords.

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