A fourth law of robotics? Copyright and the law and ethics of machine co-production.

We are facing an industrial revolution unlike any other before. For the first time, machines are not just replacing manual labour, they are taking on jobs that require knowledge, intelligence and even creativity. In such a world, “training up” to find new, better quality jobs might not always be an option. This makes control over who can legally copy our skills, knowledge and ideas ever more important. If you can’t dance, can’t talk, and the only way about you is the way you walk, should the law intervene if your “unique selling point” on the job market is copied by a robot? New academic research, presented at the European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP 2015) conference in Glasgow, organized by CREATe (Research Councils UK Copyright Centre), maps out the legal issues that arise as we surround ourselves more and more with intelligent, autonomous machines that not only consume and produce creative works, but also enable entirely new forms of copying and consumption.

The study, by a team of researchers let by Professor Burkhard Schafer at the University of Edinburgh, addresses the challenges that the robotic revolution poses for copyright policy. Taking its lead from the artistic work of Vienna-based performance artist Michael Marcovici, it asks how the law should respond to creative machines. In Marcovici’s dystopian vision, an unholy alliance between artificial intelligence and a copyright law, once invented to regulate the printing presses of the 18th century, destroy any room for new creative work. But just how dangerous is the combination of modern technology and antiquated copyright law for the creative industries of the future?

One of the most endearing depictions of a robot in popular fiction is Johnny 5, star of the Short Circuit films. While programmed with an ability to learn, he initially lacks the right type of knowledge. This changes when he is given access to an encyclopedia. Speed-reading through the pages, Johnny Five not only acquires knowledge, but also a personality. He becomes a treasured aid to his friends, and a valuable member of society. But was what he was doing legal? Would in the real world a copyright lawyer demand that he is disassembled? What was mere fantasy 20 years ago is now becoming reality. Is our legal system prepared for this challenge, or are outdated laws putting obstacles in the way of new and beneficial tools?

The study, which is forthcoming in the Journal for AI and Law, examines through the spectre of case studies from popular fiction and real life how the creative industries might become affected by automation. It asks if current copyright law is still fit for purpose for a world where robots consume and produce art. How is access to information by robots regulated? Who owns the work created by a machine? If AI programs become the main producer of short news items or press releases how will the Pulitzer Price winners of the future learn their job and get their feet on the journalistic ladder?

The researchers found that UK copyright law has taken a unique path in accommodating robot generated works which sets it apart from other industrialised nations. Concerns remain however that out-dated laws inadvertently prevent the development of new business models. Enforcement of copyright will be a major concern in a world we share with automata. The researchers show how Asimov’s famous “Laws of Robotics” can be amended to teach robots copyrights form copy wrongs.


Notes for editors: ‘A fourth law of robotics? Copyright and the law and ethics of machine co-production.’ by Burkhard Schafer, Jesus Niebla, David Komuves and Laurence Diver is a paper presented at the European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP) Conference, University of Glasgow, 2-3 September 2015. For more information visit: http://www.epip2015.org/

Burkhard Schafer is Professor for Computational Legal Theory and Director of the SCRIPT Centre for IT and IP law at the University of Edinburgh

Jesus Niebla holds a CONACyt scholarship and is doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh.

David Komuves is a CREATE PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

Laurence Diver is CREATE Research Assistant at the University of Edinburgh

For further information contact the study academic Burkhard Schafer (email b.schafer@ed.ac.uk) or the CREATe PR team (email: contact@create.ac.uk)

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