What does Artificial Intelligence have to do with films?

(c) Alex Knight, Unsplash

Alongside tackling the COVID-19 crisis, the European Commission and the European Parliament have continued working on establishing a European approach for the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The SAA had a look at the topic to try to understand how AI is used in the audiovisual sector and what its impact on authors is.

In February 2020, the European Commission launched its White Paper on AI. The document outlines the role of AI in business development and services of public interest, but it says nothing on arts and culture. However, a workshop by the European Audiovisual Observatory (2019) gave some insights on how AI is already an essential part of the audiovisual sector.

In short, AI is a machine technology that, based on inputs, is able to interpret, learn and answer complex questions. Algorithms are tools based on AI that can, for example, be used by video-on-demand platforms to customise the experience and recommend content to retain viewers. Another way AI can be used is as an editing assistance for trailers and special effects such as using images to re-create a younger version of an actor digitally. Furthermore, AI is used for content-related metadata and information (about title, genre, plot, language, cast, etc.) or on content (such as script, transcript, graphic elements and soundtracks) and other information (such as market, awards and screenings). AI can also be applied on project assessment tools, age rating and script co-writing. Scriptbook is for example an AI platform for script analysis (including the Bechdel test) and financial forecasting for theatrical movies, to inform decision-making.

AI generates both enthusiasm and fears. Algorithms based on biases can result in filter bubbles or echo chambers that may have adverse effects on diversity when platforms aim to attract and keep viewers. Audiences are nowadays active users on online video-sharing platforms providing forums to express opinions. Discussion on these forums may lead to harassment and fake news. Platform providers are not always very eager to share information about their algorithms or data generated by the use of their services, which problematically results in a lack of transparency.

While the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market recognises authors’ rights to their works, there are still many questions about whether there is or who is the copyright holder of works created by AI.

Participants at the Audiovisual Observatory workshop asked themselves: Can a machine be a copyright holder, and can a person or a company hold the rights to a work created by a machine? In legal doctrine, in order to be protected by copyright, a work must be original and bear the mark of its author’s personality. Would this apply to computers, which have no personality and rely on inputs from already pre-existing content, or could it be argued that creativity is an illusion and that creations are no more than a recombination of pre-existing content and ideas?

At a hearing on AI in the European Parliament (2019), Eleonora Rosati, professor in IP law, reassured the Parliament that the arts and culture sector are better prepared than others for the development of AI, because they are creative, which AI is not. The European Court of Justice case law got rid of aesthetic merit and subjectivity as grounds for IP, but originality remains, and AI lacks it as its work is based on copies, Rosati explained. The International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI) adopted at its World Congress 2019 a resolution stating exactly that: AI generated works should be eligible for protection of copyright, equally to other works, if it fulfils the conditions of originality resulting from human intervention.

To try to clarify all this, the Commission is going to conduct a study on AI and the challenges to the Intellectual Property Rights framework and will also look at how AI can be developed in the cultural sector in ways that respect Europe’s cultural diversity and ethical values (EC answer to the EP). Without waiting for these studies, the Parliament is developing its opinion on several aspects of AI. The report looking at education, culture and the audiovisual sector and the one focusing on intellectual property rights are particularly interesting. Other reports examine civil liabilityethical aspectsinternational law and criminal law. These are being prepared in various committees and are expected to be adopted in the autumn.

The SAA follows the development and debates to ensure that authors and creators are not overlooked.