22 August 2019 10 min read

Over the past decade technology has advanced at a staggering pace. Memories of playing snake on a Nokia 3210 seem like a lifetime ago as the invention of smartphones and new apps have opened the floodgates to do much more at the mere touch of a button.

Technology has progressed so far now that even Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) is making strides from Science-Fiction towards actual reality, so much so that there are now serious discussions taking place about granting legal rights to robots.

The European Parliament last week considered a draft report containing various recommendations about laws regarding robotics. The central aim of the report is to consider implementing a framework to regulate the rapidly growing area of Artificial Intelligence (perhaps they are concerned about a robot uprising!) In any event, the report noted the need for the creation of a European agency for robotics and AI, as well as a legal definition of ‘smart autonomous robots’ in order to pre-empt the surge in robot usage and ownership that is inevitably on the horizon.

Separate Legal Personality for Robots?

Within the report is the somewhat radical suggestion that there should be a specific legal status for robots, so that the most advanced autonomous robots could be granted electronic persons’ status, attracting specific rights and obligations. Whilst this might sound a far-fetched concept, it’s actually not as unorthodox as you might think. It’s quite likely that AI ‘person status’ is likely to be comparable to corporate personality; whereby a company is recognized as a legal entity in and of itself, entirely distinct from its members (shareholders) and directors, and therefore the company benefits from certain rights. In terms of AI, such rights and obligations would potentially cover instances where robots make their own autonomous decisions or where they need to remedy any damage they may cause.

To further protect against mishaps, the draft report suggested that there should be an individual registration number appearing in a specific EU register and that there should be a compulsory scheme of insurance for robot owners, similar to car insurance requirements for drivers. The suggestions in the report are simply an opening gambit for a field that will no doubt be subject to lengthy and innovative regulation as AI continues to grow as part of everyday life. Nonetheless, the foundation for Robot Rights has been laid.

My robot, my IP?

Few will forget the famous ‘monkey taking selfie’ incident of 2014 whereby photographer, David Slater, faced a battle in protecting his copyright over a photo that a monkey had taken of itself (as a side note, if you’ve not yet seen the photo, we highly recommend you look it up!) In any event, the case raised pertinent issues about copyright ownership and therefore, with the almost inevitable growth of AI, it’s likely that more copyright ownership will arise in this arena.

The report from the EU somewhat predictably suggests that there needs to be discussion surrounding intellectual creations for copyrightable works produced by robots or computers. Technical designs, patents, Trade Marks and so on; there are numerous intellectual property rights which could quite feasibly be created by a Robot in the foreseeable future. Copyright, too, is likely to prove a difficult area. Imagine, for example, if someone created an advanced robot that subsequently went on to create the most downloaded song of 2020? Who would own the copyright and benefit (quite considerably) from the creation? We suspect we’re a little way away from this scenario being a reality, but we’ll keep you posted as this new and exciting sub-area of law develops. In the meantime, thankfully the ownership of human-created intellectual property is a much simpler matter (and one that we at Hybrid specialize in).

Keeping up with the latest trends can be tiring work but Hybrid is here to help your business grow and adapt to changing regulatory and legal environments. Unlike a traditional law firm, we don’t charge by the hour and we won’t charge for each phone call or email. Instead, all of our fees are fixed and agreed with you upfront. Why not contact us today to discuss your legal requirements in further detail, we’ll be delighted to talk to you!

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