Ai continues to make headlines and alter the way we think about art and plagiarism, and even the law. In this Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn discusses the diverging lines between what is your creative endeavor and what has no copyright at all. (What we discuss here is anecdotal, based on news reports, and should not be construed as legal advance. Always, consult a lawyer.)
Rob Artigo: Well, as a writer, the subject of copyright comes up, something that’s copyrighted, and plagiarism has been in the news a lot lately-
Ray Zinn: Yes. Big time, yeah.
Rob Artigo: … and defining what plagiarism is. And I wonder, when I’m looking at AI, where does AI get its content? If I create an AI-generated article, apparently, it can’t be copyrighted, but where does the material come from?
Ray Zinn: Well, AI is really a buzzword that it’s getting a lot of press. There’s a lot of concern about it. Just the other day, the government was getting concerned about AI chips going into China, and they’ve had to modify the capability of the AI chip, like what we do when we’re talking about a GPS. The military, they have GPS that goes down to a couple, two or three feet.
Then you have the commercial GPS which is good to maybe 100 feet, and then you get the… Anybody can have it, which is maybe good to a quarter mile kind of thing. So GPS is all controlled by the government. In other words, they say what the standard is. AI is the same way. Artificial intelligence is very similar to global positioning satellite or GPS, and it is “controlled by the government,” and it’s all created by semiconductor chips and software. That really defines what the capability of AI is.
So there’s all different levels of AI, just like they are in GPS. Depending, again, which level of AI you’re using will depend upon what you can legally copyright, and call your own, and what you cannot. We got to be careful about what level we’re talking about. So at a high level, where you’re not giving any input at all, you can’t copyright that, because it’s all generated by something else. And then the fact that the program plagiarizes, it goes out into the ether, and grabs all these different articles, and then changing some swapping words around and paragraphs around and so forth, so it doesn’t look like it’s a direct copy. They create what you want. They will write an article for you, and you can actually buy right now, or pay for an article to be created that you had no input whatsoever on. You just paid some money to have it done, whether it be a newsletter, or whether it be a press release, or a happy birthday card. All those are “AI”.
I mean, they’re artificially created, meaning you didn’t do it yourself. So when we talk about AI, it is just a buzzword. I mean, it is just something that was created that you had no input, whether it be mimicking your voice, whether it be mimicking your face, whether it be mimicking your company or whatever. Again, it’s like a parrot, it’s mimicking. But you can make it sound very real. In fact, if you go right now and try to create a voice-created email, then it asks for samples. In other words, it asks you to repeat, in your voice, a certain paragraph, so that it can mimic the way you do it. And so it sounds like they can recognize voice recognition as you would. They can recognize who you are.
Rob Artigo: The fact, I was actually surprised to find out, that you can’t copyright something that you generate by AI. The article that I’m looking at here is actually from wired.com, and they have a picture that looks looks like classic oil on canvas painting. It’s this beautiful big, epic-looking picture and this image looks like a painting. It’s wonderful, beautiful piece of art, and it’s an award-winning piece of art, and yet we could take this and put this on toughthingsfirst.com, and not have to worry about violating anybody’s copyright. We wouldn’t even have to ask permission. We could just throw it up there and use it.
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s like paint by number like Hunter Biden. You’re just filling in the… It shows you what paint to use, and you just dob it in that perimeter of where it says number one, number two, three, four, five, whatever, and then you create the painting that way. But that’s artificial. In other words, there’s no way that you could copyright that, because it was artificially done, whether it’s paint by number or whether it was done by a computer. So, I mean, you can create, with software, you can actually make yourself look beautiful by doing… I just went brain-dead for a second. What is that? How you can clear up-
Rob Artigo: Like hair brushing or masking?
Ray Zinn: No, there’s a term for it anyway. In photos, you can Photoshop it. That’s it.
Rob Artigo: Okay. Right.
Ray Zinn: You can Photoshop yourself. You can Photoshop yourself with muscles, and with darker eyebrows, and darker hair. And like me, I could use darker hair, but you can make yourself look like anything you want. And then that’s artificially done. You can’t copyright that, because that’s not original. You actually used something else to do it. So you got to be careful when you do editing, or do writing where you’re… You got to be careful. You may pay the money to have it copyrighted, but it can be challenged in court. It’s like when you do patents, there’s we call workaround. Okay?
So patent workaround is where you try to find some way to work around a valid patent. And then there’s a lot of legality, litigation going on, where the company owns the patent tries to connect the dots and say, “Well, you just copied what we did,” and you say, “Oh, no, I didn’t. I changed this, I changed that.” And it’s a big legal battle. That’s the workaround that they do. So, AI is the same way. I mean, you’re just basically doing a workaround. And whether you’re trying to create your own doctorate thesis, or a master’s thesis, or whatever, if you get AI to create it, be careful, because they’re going to plagiarize. They’re going to go, grab it out there, and then it’s going to be then not your content, but somebody else’s.
Rob Artigo: The article here talks about that AI-generated painting, if you will, because it’s not really paint, right? It’s just digital pixels, and that’s how the image was created. The copyright office admitted that parts of the image were original works, and that he could copyright little pieces of it, but he couldn’t copyright the whole image. And I think, right now, that’s kind of the Wild West we’re in. If you write something, if AI generates something for you, and there are bits and pieces in there that are your original work, you’d have to, like you said that the patent office, you’d have to have this big legal battle as to what’s original and what’s AI generated. Do you-
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s what a patent attorney does though, Rob. The patent attorney goes out, and looks, and does research, and finds out how much of your patent is plagiarized, meaning how much have you… Maybe you didn’t know. Maybe you didn’t even think that there was, somebody out there already had done it. But even if you didn’t know about it, if you were totally unaware, and then you tried to patent it, if you have a good patent attorney, he will then, or she will then let you know what areas are plagiarized. Now you can say, “Well, I didn’t copy.” Doesn’t matter. Plagiarized means that you’re taking something from somebody else, and then calling it your own. That’s what plagiarizing is.
And patent work, which I’ve done a lot, I’ve got over 20 patents under my belt, and so I know what it takes to create a valid patent, and so it’s really interesting. I submitted an original, what I thought was an original circuit, to have patented, and my patent lawyer came back and says, “Hey, Ray, that’s already been done.” And then he sent me the copy of it and I looked at it and I said, “Oh, man, I’ll do this a little differently over here.” And he says, “Well, yeah, but it’s not enough different.”
Rob Artigo: Yeah. It’s not enough different.
Ray Zinn: Right. Right.
Rob Artigo: And with the many screenplays that I’ve written, and books and things, and one thing that I learned in the world of creating, particularly, written material is that chances are, if I send out a original screenplay to be read and reviewed by a studio, or by an executive, or an agent, or whatever, chances are they’re going to come back and they’re going to say, “I’ve already seen this script.”
Ray Zinn: Right.
Rob Artigo: And you go, “What do you mean? It’s completely original.” They go, “No, well, it’s…” And my wife would call it the 100th monkey theory, that if one monkey learns how to do something over here, by the time… I mean, at the same time, somebody at the other end of the line is already learning the same thing, so it doesn’t actually have to reach that person. And then there’s another one, where if you come up with a brilliant idea in Silicon Valley, somebody in Sichuan Province or something in China has thought of the exact same thing, exactly at the same time, because of the input. Now, that’s not always the case. Obviously, people come up with original ideas that are good. It’s just a matter of coincidence that the same stimuli hits somebody else-
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: … at exactly the same time.
Ray Zinn: We see that all the time. There are a lot of products that are on the market that are very much look-alikes. In other words, they’re just copies of each other, and then it’s up to the marketing people to sell it saying, “Well, ours is a little bit better, a little more reliability, or a little more functionality,” or whatever. But be careful, because anything that is not 90 to 95% different, it’s going to be challenged. Even if it’s 80, 85%, it’s going to get challenged, because it’s depending, again, how successful your product is. So if your product is not at least 95% original, then you’re more likely or most likely to be challenged. So, anyway, this has been a good discussion. So if anybody wants to add to it, if you have questions, if you want to have us talk about it further, please let us know.
Rob Artigo: It’s really cool to talk to you, when we get one of these really fiery conversations, because I think there’s a lot to be learned out there. Like Ray said, you can join the conversation at toughthingsfirst.com. You can raise your questions with Ray. You can make some comments. You can follow Ray at Twitter, which I guess now is just X, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It’s a bad habit to break, Ray. It’s very difficult habit to call, stop calling it Twitter.
Ray Zinn: I know. It’s like, back in the day, when Xerox invented the copy machine, we used to call it Xeroxing. And so even though we might be using a Canon, or an HP, or something, we still call it Xeroxing, “Could you Xerox me a copy?” It’s hard to break that habit.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, yeah. Because it becomes synonymous. It’s just like, “Hey, everybody knows what you’re talking about.” Yeah. Anyway, so LinkedIn as well is another location where you can find Ray’s social media. Toughthingsfirst.com is the place. The book is Tough Things First. Check it out. There’s also Zen of Zinn one, two, and three. Check out those books. You won’t regret it. Thanks, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob.