1. Background: three years of legislative debate

Today, on July 12, 2024, EU Regulation No. 1689/2024 laying down harmonized rules on Artificial Intelligence (“Regulation” or “AI Act”) was finally published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force on August 1, 2024.  This milestone is the culmination of three years of legislative debate since the EU Commission’s first proposal for a comprehensive EU regulation on AI in April 2021. [1]

This week, a federal court in Tennessee transferred to California a lawsuit brought by several large music publishers against a California-based AI company, Anthropic PBC. Plaintiffs in Concord Music Group et al. v. Anthropic PBC[1] allege that Anthropic infringed the music publishers’ copyrights by improperly using copyrighted song lyrics to train Claude, its generative AI model.  The music publishers asserted not only direct copyright infringement based on this training, but also contributory and vicarious infringement based on user-prompted outputs and violation of Section 1202(b) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for allegedly removing plaintiffs’ copyright management information from copies of the lyrics.  On November 16, 2023, the music publishers also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would require Anthropic to implement effective “guardrails” in its Claude AI models to prevent outputs that infringe plaintiffs’ copyrighted lyrics and preclude Anthropic from creating or using unauthorized copies of those lyrics to train future AI models. 

Last week, in Vidal v. Elster, the Supreme Court upheld the Lanham Act’s prohibition against registering a trademark that includes a living person’s name without their consent.[1]  This case is the latest in a trilogy of challenges to the constitutionality of trademark registration bars in the Lanham Act.  The Court previously struck down as unconstitutional the clauses in Section 2(c) prohibiting registration of marks constituting “disparagement” and “immoral or scandalous matter.”[2]  In a departure from those decisions, the Court upheld the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s refusal to register a trademark for “Trump Too Small”—a piece of political commentary that the applicant sought to use on apparel to criticize a government official.  The Court reasoned that, unlike the other provisions, the “names” prohibition is viewpoint-neutral, and thus does not violate any First Amendment right. 

In a recent en banc decision concerning the standard for assessing obviousness challenges to design patents, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit discarded its long-standing standard, known as the Rosen-Durling test and regarded by many as overly-rigid, and held that the standard for design patents should be the same as for utility patents.  The decision in LKQ Corporation v. GM Global Technology Operations LLC[1] will have significant implications for design patent applicants and owners going forward.

Late last month, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) released four draft publications regarding actions taken by the agency following President Biden’s executive order on AI (the “Order”; see our prior alert here)[1] and call for action within six months of the Order.  Adding to NIST’s mounting portfolio of AI-related guidance, these publications reflect months of research focused on identifying risks associated with the use of artificial intelligence (“AI”) systems and promoting the central goal of the Order: improving the safety, security and trustworthiness of AI.  The four draft documents, further described below, are titled:

Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Hearst Newspapers, LLC v. Martinelli, declining to determine whether the “discovery rule” applies in Copyright Act infringement cases and under what circumstances.  As a result, most circuits will continue to apply the rule to determine when an infringement claim accrues for purposes of applying the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations.

There has been a push at the state and federal level to regulate AI-generated deepfakes that use the voices and likenesses of real people without their approval.  This legislative momentum stems from a series of high profile incidents involving deepfakes that garnered public attention and concern.  Last year, an AI-generated song entitled “Heart on My Sleeve” simulated the voices of recording artists Drake and The Weeknd.  The song briefly went viral before being pulled from streaming services following objections from the artists’ music label.  Another incident involved an advertisement for dental services that used an AI-generated Tom Hanks to make the sales pitch.  As AI becomes more sophisticated and accessible to the general public, it has raised concerns over the misappropriation of people’s personas.  In recent months, several states have introduced legislation targeting the use of deepfakes to spread election-related misinformation.  At the federal level, both the House and Senate are considering a federal right of publicity that would give individuals a private right of action.  At the state level, Tennessee has become the first state update its right of publicity laws targeted towards the music industry, signing the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (the “ELVIS Act”) into law on March 21, 2024, which takes effect July 1, 2024.

Last week, a divided Supreme Court held in Warner Chappell Music, Inc. et al. v. Nealy et al. that a copyright plaintiff who timely files an infringement lawsuit based on the “discovery rule” may recover damages for infringements that occurred outside the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations period.[1]  A claim generally accrues when an infringing act occurs, but many circuits apply a “discovery rule,” pursuant to which a claim accrues when a plaintiff has (or with reasonable diligence should have) discovered the infringement, which could be many years later.  Courts applying this rule have recently disagreed on how far back damages are available, with the Second Circuit holding that a copyright claimant may recover only three years’ of damages, even if the suit was otherwise timely under the discovery rule.  The Supreme Court rejected that conclusion, holding that “no such limit on damages exists” in the Copyright Act, which “entitles a copyright owner to recover damages for any timely claim” no matter when the infringement occurred.  

Last week the Fourth Circuit reversed a $1 billion copyright verdict against an internet service provider and ordered a new trial on damages allegedly arising from illegal music downloads by its subscribers.  In Sony Music Entertainment et al. v. Cox Communications Inc. et al.,[1] a group of music producers belonging to the Recording Industry Association of America brought suit against Cox for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement based on allegations that Cox induced and encouraged rampant infringement on its service.  In 2019, a jury found Cox liable on both theories for infringement of 10,017 copyrighted works and awarded $99,830.29 per work, for a total of $1 billion in statutory damages.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit issued a mixed ruling – upholding the finding of contributory infringement but reversing the vicarious liability verdict and remanding for a new trial on damages. 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) issued guidance on February 13, 2024 (the “Guidance”) regarding the patentability of inventions created or developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence (“AI”), a novel issue on which the USPTO has been seeking input from various public and private stakeholders over the past few years.  President Biden mandated the issuance of such Guidance in his executive order on AI (see our prior alert here)[1] in October 2023.  The Guidance aims to clarify how patent applications involving AI-assisted inventions will be examined by patent examiners, and reaffirms the existing jurisprudence maintaining that only natural persons, not AI tools, can be listed as inventors.  However, the Guidance clarifies that AI-assisted inventions are not automatically ineligible for patent protection so long as one or more natural persons “significantly contributed” to the invention.  Overall, the Guidance underscores the need for a balanced approach to inventorship that acknowledges both technological advancements and human innovation.  The USPTO is seeking public feedback on the Guidance, which is due by May 13, 2024.