Generative Art Is Challenging What It Means to Be Human

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It’s unlikely that Thaler will get the acceptance of the Creativity Machine’s “humanity” that he wants from the Copyright Office. Nor should he—radically redefining our conception of what it means to be human is not a task that should fall to the Register of Copyrights, an unelected and relatively obscure government official appointed by the Librarian of Congress. But Thaler and other generative artists deserve the recognition and control that would come with at least being able to register as the authors of these works themselves. As more and more artists turn to generative code and other algorithmic tools to make their work, we should consider extending protection to the products of these methods.

To be sure, many artists in the generative art movement couldn’t care less about whether their work is eligible for copyright protection. Yet. “A lot of the people participating in the crypto space who come from a programming or coding or engineering background have that open source ethos,” says Erick Calderon, founder of the NFT platform Art Blocks. But Calderon says he sees artists start to think about protecting their images “that first time when somebody takes advantage of your work and you feel a little bit violated, where you’re just sitting there going, ‘oh, man, it would have been nice for them to have asked me.’” 

Unauthorized appropriation of an artist’s work for commercial purposes where there’s significant money at stake strikes many as unfair. And Calderon, an artist himself, sees unauthorized appropriation as both an economic and political issue. “I’d be concerned if you started a shawarma restaurant and used a Chromie Squiggle as a logo,” he says, referring to his signature generative project. “That’s not necessarily the artistic intent I had behind the Squiggles.” It’s also important to Calderon to be able to prevent his work from being used for hate speech. Without copyright, artists would have limited recourse when they saw their work being used to adorn the flag of ...

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