United Arab Emirates: MAN, The Law, And Algorithms!

Last Updated: 26 September 2017
Article by Zisha Rizvi and Fatima Sakkaf
Most Read Contributor in United Arab Emirates, July 2018

"Computers will overtake humans with Artificial Intelligence within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure that computers have goals aligned with ours."

Stephen Hawking

A few years ago, I used to take the morning bus to reach College. During that ride, I would look at my fellow passengers, and notice a decent number of people holding books of various genres and authors. Whereas today, as I take the metro to work, I observe that most of the people are indulged in their mobile devices or e-books to read from their favorite authors. Anyone who stops for a moment to see this transition in lifestyle would be amused at the extent that technology has influenced us in our daily chores! Who would have thought that we would hold devices that can speak to us and show thousands of books and authors in just one click! Then I wondered... What if the people of tomorrow use similar devices to read novels and short stories that are authored by computers? What if tomorrow we were able to (and we will) create a technology that is progressively intelligent and can produce a novel as good as J.K Rowling, Stephen King or Charles Dickens? Should the law consider a computer, in that case, as an author and give it ownership of its copyright? Continue reading to fabricate an opinion on the subject.

A Global KO!

Although, in my view, all kinds of intellectual work should be conferred with legal protection to avoid any misuse by third parties, be it the work of a human or non-human (or artificial beings). However, many believe that intellectual property that is created by artificial beings should not be subject to copyright protection since humanity of the applicant is the basis of conferring these rights rather than intelligence and creativity of the work. The most suitable example in this regard is the famous 'Monkey Selfie case' that was filed by PETAi in a Federal Court in San Francisco in 2015. In this case, a British photographer lost his camera in the Indonesian forest when the star-studded 'Naruto' (monkey) came along, grabbed the camera and took a selfie. However, the story does not end there. Viewing this bizarre accident as a queer marketing strategy, the photographer and many other online outlets published Naruto's picture on various social media websites as a publicity stunt; leading to the filing of a suit by PETA to establish Naruto's copyright over the image.

However, the Court issued its verdict against PETA stating that copyright protection does not extend to non-humans. The case is now on appeal. PETA's based its claim on the fact that "IP rights should be conferred depending on the originality of the work rather than the humanity of its author.

As time is taking us towards the direction of progressive science, our future generations may witness technologies that may be able to understand human emotions, author novels, articles, or even movie scripts and music lyrics! Since the laws are still not considering any copyright protection for non-humans, it is likely to assume that any computer authored works may not be subject to copyright protection and would be open to infringement and exploitation by humans. Ergo, intellectual property rights on artificial intelligence (AI) will exist in future, not because we choose to treat a machine as a person or because a motherboard is a comparison to the human brain. But, due to the legal loophole(s) in global intellectual property laws that might not stop us from claiming copyright entitlement over the work of a computer. If not, then I will use that technology to write a novel and publish it under my name when I am not a writer. What an easy way to make some money!

The only reason these legislations do not consider computers as authors and grant them copyright over their work is that the technology is relatively novel and we are not familiar with the outcome and effects of a verdict for a machine. On the other hand, some of us do not accept such ideas or advancements in the judiciary since we consider ourselves as superior and cannot be on the same scale with machines. But the fact is we are not the only creatures who are intelligent and creative on this planet. Only time will tell when laws could accept and extend the protection of intellectual property to artificial intelligence also. Twenty years from now, we might hear the first case of man versus machine in a copyright case, and once this happens, it will be a breaking point for humanity which will outline the next era.

From a global perspective, the domestic laws of United States grant copyright protection to person(s) as well as legal entities such as corporate(s). However, if copyright protection onto ideas formulated by artificial intelligence, then they might receive a similar response as that in the monkey selfie case mentioned above. The US Copyright Office may also decline their application for registration since section 503.3 provides the following definition for (human) author: 'The term authorship implies that (for work to be copyrightable) it must owe its origin (originate) to a natural person. Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable'. A broad reading of this definition may imply that this definition may apply to machine(s) also, and we assume that the definition does not include the word 'computer' since the technology has not yet to developed. Hence, the US Copyright Office has made it clear that any work that is produced by non-human(s) will not be subject to registration. Aforementioned comprehends that a person (natural or legal) would have the right to the copyright of the work done by him. Further, when a legal entity such as a corporation hires an employee to publish books or articles, then the former would be entitled to its copyright. It is clear that the US copyright laws still does not validate any work produced by non-humans which mean that US law does not acknowledge computer author(s) and hence, will not be subject to protection. I understand that since we did not reach that level of intelligence yet then whether to considering non-humans as authors or not does not make a difference. Further, under the French Intellectual Property Code, Article 113-1 stated: 'Authorship shall belong, unless proved otherwise, to the person(s) under whose name the work has been (published; or) disclosed.' That means the French laws also does not take computer authored works into account while conferring intellectual property rights in the country.

In the UAE...

The UAE is no different in this aspect. UAE's Federal Law Number (7) of 2002 (concerning Copyrights and Neighboring Rights)  (as amended by Federal Law Number 32 of 2006) (the UAE Copyright Law) defines an 'author' pursuant to Article 1 as follows: 'the author of a work whose name appears on the work or to whom the work is attributed at the time of publication (unless proven otherwise)." Further, the provision goes on to state that, 'An author shall also be a person who publishes a work anonymously or under a pseudonym or by any other means provided there is no doubt as to the identity of the author. In the case of doubt, the publisher or producer of the work, as a natural person or corporate entity, shall exercise the rights of the author on his behalf until (such time as) the identity of the author is established'.

Hence, the UAE Copyright Law is in line with the US and French law and does not accept the works produced by non-human (or artificial intelligence). Further, similar to the scenario in the US, corporate entities may also claim for copyright of the works of its employees as long as the source of the work is a natural person. Further, the reader should also note that there has not been any case in the UAE where a non-human claimed the protection of copyright as it is limited to disputes between a natural person and legal entities.

Who Will Survive?

As mentioned above, it is clear that copyright laws around the globe solely favor the human race. However, we could be heading towards a direction of change regarding copyright laws (whether for good or bad). The notion of conferring computer authored works with copyright protection initiated in the US with the mind-opening case of the monkey's selfie case, which received global scrutiny. Only time will tell about the changes that in the legislative regime of intellectual property due to the common human tendency to rule over all other species (including computers - that is, if they were a species). However, in a dynamic and rapidly growing global economy, the governments are forced to adapt to the changes by implementing impartial (even to computers) laws in the light of the developing technologies. Who knows, in a few decades from now, maybe computers might be the ones who write an article on a human's efficiency in the modern world (pun intended). However, if and when that day comes, we will have to ensure that humans and computers have an aligned set of goals. Before I conclude, I don't fathom nor accept even the remote idea of Court Uncourt articles written by algorithms. Passion is, what passion was and will always be!


i  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (a non-profit organization that campaigns for animal rights and their ethical treatment).

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