Federal government launches consultation to study AI copyright rules

Sebastian Leck
July 21, 2021

Starting this week, the Canadian government is asking for public input on a “modern copyright framework” for artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) released a report on Monday listing the policy issues that they will be examining and the feedback that they have received from the last year of prior consultations. They have asked members of the public to submit comments before Sept. 17, 2021.

The issues related to AI include text and data mining of copyrighted material by AI tools and the creation of literature, music and other work by AI software. Who exactly owns work created by an AI is unclear, the report notes, as is the definition of AI itself.

Barry B. Sookman, senior counsel at McCarthy Tetrault and an expert on copyright law, said that there is a gap in the law for work created by algorithms that have been trained using large datasets. For example, a translation of a book by an algorithm likely wouldn't be protected under copyright laws, especially if it was trained using advanced techniques where human input is "much more ephemeral," he said.

The UK passed an amendment in 1988 to its own copyright laws on computer-assisted works, but few other countries have laws that deal specifically with work created by AI. Sound recordings and broadcast signals are protected under copyright laws — even if creating them required no skill or judgment from a human — because it provides an economic incentive, according to Sookman.

"If effectively you could be doing the same thing with a thousand artists but instead you make an investment, that investment should be equally protected as an incentive for innovation," Sookman said. "If someone invests $10 million to create a particular kind of work and then publishes it and anyone is free to use it, that creates a massive disincentive."

On the Internet of Things, the government will be studying technological protection measures, or “digital locks,” that prevent customers and third parties from accessing software in devices. Sookman said that although the laws were initially designed to protect against copyright infringement, they now act as legal protection against attempts to hack into IoT products.

"One of the biggest challenges with Internet of Things is in fact the need to be able to secure them adequately. You can imagine if anyone could — and people have already — hack the computer programs that are operating a car and cause cars to swerve off the road, cause accidents, cause all kinds of things," he said.

"There are safety issues and security issues, and it happens right now that the ways in which companies can protect [against] hacking from happening is through copyright."

The consultations will contribute to a review of the Copyright Act, according to ISED. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology made 36 recommendations in 2019 for modernizing the act.


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