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The Divergence In Copyright Recognition For AI-Generated Works: An In-Depth Analysis Of Ankit Sahni’s Case In The US And India

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on January 8, 2024


The ever-evolving intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and copyright law has given rise to complex challenges, particularly in recognizing AI-generated works as copyrightable. An intriguing case that illustrates this divergence in approach is the dispute surrounding Ankit Sahni’s artwork, ‘Suryast.’ On December 11, 2023[1], the Copyright Review Board affirmed the United States Copyright Office (USCO)’s rejection of Sahni’s application, adding another layer to the ongoing debate.

Background: ‘SURYAST’ And USCO’S Decision

Ankit Sahni, a multidisciplinary artist and lawyer, employed the AI-based tool RAGHAV (‘Robust Artificially Intelligent Graphics and Art Visualizer’) to generate ‘Suryast’ in 2020. The USCO initially refused copyright registration, declaring it too robotic, too soulless to bear the human touch of authorship. Despite Sahni’s argument that RAGHAV’s contributions were distinct and a unique offspring of his and RAGHAV’s collaboration, the USCO maintained its position, stating that the final image constituted a derivative work primarily authored by RAGHAV.

The creative piece came to life by inputting a digital photo crafted by Mr. Sahni and blending it with an image of Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic masterpiece, The Starry Night, as the ‘style’ reference in RAGHAV. The sun takes center stage in the output, with clouds forming interesting patterns, and there is a building in the foreground, complete with its own slatted privacy fence. Mr. Sahni explained that he had the ability to fine-tune the degree of ‘style transfer’ from the input style within the software.

USCO’S Reaffirmation and SAHNI'S Arguments

Despite Sahni’s request for reconsideration, the USCO reiterated its stance, emphasizing that RAGHAV’s role was inaccurately minimized by Sahni. The board pointed out that RAGHAV’s interpretation of Sahni’s photograph was a result of the model’s training, not specific contributions or instructions from Sahni.

Sahni’s second attempt on July 10, 2023, focused on three arguments:

  • RAGHAV as assistive software,
  • the human elements in the base image, and
  • the non-derivative nature of the work.

However, guided by recent legal precedent and copyright office guidance, the Board rejected these arguments.

The Board’s opinion draws heavily from the U.S. District Court’s Thaler v. Perlmutter decision[2], asserting that human originators are essential for copyright protection. Furthermore, recent guidance from the Copyright Office emphasizes the crucial distinction between AI and human creators lies on whether the work is "basically one of human authorship" or if the traditional elements were conceived and executed by a machine. The Board simplified its contributions, highlighting that copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself.

Global Perspectives

Interestingly, while the USCO’s stance aligns with previous denials of protection for synthetic creations, including the Thaler case[3], the Indian Copyright Office initially granted registration to ‘Suryast’ in November 2020, making Mr. Sahni the first person ever to receive copyright protection for AI-generated pieces. However, a subsequent withdrawal notice raised questions about the legal status of RAGHAV, indicating a lack of clarity in India’s approach.

Highlighting the key aspects of Section 2(d)(iii) and 2(d)(vi) of the Copyright Act of 1957, the notice emphasized the requirement that an ‘author’ should be an artist or an individual who facilitates the creation of artistic work. In response, Mr. Sahni contended that the Copyright Office lacked the jurisdiction to reconsider its own ruling.  

In contrast, Canada recognized Sahni’s co-authorship with the AI tool, highlighting the variability in legal interpretations globally.

The Beijing Internet Court[4] took a different stance, recognizing AI-generated content for copyright protection based on an element of originality and human oversight.

The disparity in policy positions across jurisdictions prompts questions about whether non-human AI entities can be considered authors and the necessity of human co-authorship.

The legal challenges surrounding these works extend beyond authorship disputes. Professor Pamela Samuelson and others argue that current copyright laws are ill-equipped to address these challenges and advocate for legislative reforms. The emerging European Union AI Act emphasizes transparency and disclosure requirements, acknowledging the need for clarity in reviewing applications for AI-generated content.

Suryast’s Registration snapshot taken from the official website[5].

The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 poses its own set of challenges in recognizing AI-generated works. The Act grants copyright protection to works created by humans, leaving a gray area for works solely generated by AI algorithms. While the European Union considers it under human ownership with sufficient oversight, India’s legal framework lacks explicit provisions, necessitating a closer examination of the definition of “author” and “work.”


The case of Ankit Sahni’s ‘Suryast’ underscores the divergence in global approaches to copyright recognition. The technical intricacies of AI, the lack of legislative clarity, and the varying perspectives on originality contribute to the complexity of the issue. As technology advances, a holistic approach that considers both human creativity and the AI framework becomes imperative for a comprehensive solution.

In contemplating Ankit Sahni’s case, it becomes evident that the intersection of AI and creativity requires a delicate balance. As we navigate this uncharted territory, my personal perspective leans towards the necessity for a nuanced understanding of AI’s role in the creative process. While technology undoubtedly contributes, the essence of authorship, as recognized by copyright laws, seems deeply rooted in the human touch. This prompts a broader societal conversation about the evolving definition of creativity in the age of artificial intelligence.


Can AI ever be considered a co-author with a human?

In the realm of copyright, the collaboration between humans and AI is a bit complex. While some jurisdictions, like Canada, acknowledge joint authorship, the US seems to emphasize the distinctly human touch for copyright protection. The nuances of this partnership are still evolving and might depend on where you stand.

How does copyright law handle the unique challenges posed by AI-generated works?

Copyright law, a bit like a referee in the creativity game, has its hands full with AI-generated content. As seen in Ankit Sahni's case, the emphasis often lies on human authorship. However, the ever-growing complexity of AI raises questions that copyright laws are racing to answer. How much is too much AI, and when does it overshadow the human touch?

What is the future of AI in copyright protection for creative works?

Peering into the crystal ball, the future of AI in copyright protection seems both promising and uncertain. While some jurisdictions grapple with recognizing AI as an author, others, like China, have taken steps towards protecting AI-generated content. The road ahead will likely involve more court decisions, legal clarifications, and perhaps a reimagining of what it means to be a creator in the age of artificial intelligence.






King Stubb & Kasiva,
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