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Editorial: Japan must discuss protecting creative workers' copyrights from generative AI

Megumi Morisaki (center), president of the Japan Arts Workers, which is calling for the protection of creative workers' copyrights from AI, is seen at a press conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 8, 2023. (Mainichi/Yongho Lee)

Artificial intelligence (AI) can now be used to generate content including images, text and audio, and those in the arts and culture sector are becoming increasingly worried that it poses a threat to their creative work.

    The main concern is copyright infringement. To generate images and text, the machine learning process needs a very large data set to train on. The material used for that process includes images and songs created by artists as well as portraits of actors and recordings of people's voices.

    About 94% of respondents to an online survey conducted in May by the Arts Workers Japan, made up of actors, musicians and others, said they were worried about copyright infringement and other negative effects of AI. One respondent complained that their own works were used to generate images without their permission, while another said the value of the techniques they have acquired would be negated.

    Under Japan's current Copyright Act, copyrighted works can be used as study data without obtaining the permission of the copyright holder, as long as it is used for information analysis and processing only. The government amended the law in 2018 at the request of industry in their attempt to spark innovation.

    However, the rapid evolution of generative AI has created problems that cannot be adequately addressed under the current legal framework.

    AI systems' generative processes are a black box, unknowable from the outside. Unlike with humans, it is difficult to tell even which data an AI is using.

    Arts Workers Japan is asking the government to establish a mechanism to protect creative workers' rights, such as making rules requiring that AI training data be revealed.

    The use of AI to improve business efficiency will continue to expand. In some cases, AI is already replacing human workers. However, if AI is increasingly used in the field of arts and culture, artists could lose their motivation to create new works. It could also hinder people from passing down arts and techniques, and damage cultural diversity.

    In the United States, Hollywood screenwriters and others worried about generative AI's impact on their industry are urging production companies not to use machines to create scenarios for movies and dramas.

    Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs says it will explore issues by hearing opinions from lawyers and experts on AI and copyright issues. As our society becomes more digitized, we hope that discussions will be held to ensure that the rights of people involved in arts and culture will not be infringed.

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