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Colorado attorney helps artists navigate copyright laws amid artificial intelligence surge

Morgan English.jpg
Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 20:54:17-05

DENVER — A Colorado attorney is combining her love of art and law by helping artists navigate copyright laws and artificial intelligence (AI) issues.

Attorney Morgan English, who is an artist herself, said she saw a need in the art community shortly after graduating from law school.

“So I graduated law school and I kind of became a full-time artist. I was in this transition period before doing a fellowship abroad. So I just wanted to do something creative and really lean into it. When I moved back to Colorado, I actually started doing AI-related workshops, talking about how AI applied to art. And it kind of just hit me because I was in sort of like a room similar to this with my artwork up on the walls doing this workshop. And I was like, 'I could do this. I could start merging these two worlds together. I can keep doing workshops.' I partnered with CAFTA, Colorado Attorneys for the Arts, as well to do pro bono work. And yeah, just took off from there,” English said.

English said she helps artists understand that ideas are free but the expression of those ideas is copyrightable.

“If you wanted to create a story about wizards at a school, that's perfectly fine because that's an idea. But once you start going further, and maybe that wizard's name is Harry and his last name is Potterson, then you're kind of getting close to the line of stealing expression,” English said.

English said artificial intelligence has further complicated copyright issues.

“I think there's a lot of beautiful things about it, about art being accessible to multiple different people. But there are some complications when it comes to copyright, a lot of the images that have been used to train these algorithms were completely scraped. So there was no consent given for artists to be included in these databases. There's no transparency. You don't necessarily always know if you are included in the database, and then there's just no compensation. So when I'm talking about AI and trying to advocate for artists, it's not that I want to completely remove the technology because I think there's a lot of benefits. But it's getting credit, compensation, transparency, and consent,” English said. "There's a couple of lawsuits that are happening currently. I think the New York Times is also suing Open AI. Yeah, I mean, in the legal field, I would say they're trying to develop some rules and some guidelines."

English said her best advice for artists is to copyright their work.

“It's very, very simple to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. The whole process could take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes but it really gives you a lot of extra protection. Since 1976, all original works that are fixed receive copyright protection. But until you register it, you can't necessarily start a lawsuit. So it kind of gives you that extra protection,” English said.

Artist Maryellen Russo said English has helped her navigate copyright laws while she works on her latest piece.

“We're creating a very large assemblage piece. And with that piece, there were some mechanisms that we were concerned we might be infringing copyrights on or even patents. And Morgan helped us understand the complexities of that — where to be concerned and where not to be concerned. Not only was she knowledgeable from a legal perspective, but she was also very encouraging and insightful and really inspired us to continue with this project where we had concerns before,” Russo said. “It's a very, very complicated business that if you don't have experience in it, then you can very easily infringe. And I know that it stops a lot of artists from actually doing their work.”

English said as artists incorporate new tools and media into their work, U.S. art laws are working to catch up.

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