The Gikii conference is an opportunity for lawyers, researchers and futurists to explore the boundaries of technology and law. I had the opportunity to present at this year’s Gikii, hosted by the Law School at Utrecht University on 7-8 September (view conference details). This blog post summarises my paper and provides a link to a video of my conference talk.
My paper explores whether existing intellectual property law such as copyright would hold up in the multiverse. Popularised in films such as Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), the multiverse is a fun concept but one that doesn’t seem to bear on our present reality. Or does it? Advances in generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) could soon usher in multiverse-like conditions for innovators. GenAI could enable operators to rapidly explore an innovation space and bring out the most promising ideas, unleashing near-infinite possibilities. As I discuss in my presentation, the disruptive effects of GenAI are consonant with earlier disruptions caused by low-cost digital copying and digital workflows. As Waldfogel (2017) has shown, the number of cultural innovations across music, film and TV has massively increased due to efficiencies introduced by digital technology. Recent research by Avezedo et al. (2020) supports Waldfogel’s view that the quality of innovations might also improve due to quantity. If we imagine an innovation space like the creative industries where “nobody knows anything” about the quality of untested ideas, running a lot of tests using AI can help locate hidden gems. So in addition to “competing with free” (Smith & Telang, 2009), producers may also find themselves competing with better.
Thompson (2022) has used the term “zero marginal content” to describe the impact of AI-generated output. Lowering the cost of innovation could enable creators to serve niche audiences that could not be engaged when costs were higher. If production costs were reduced enough, even obscure internet memes could form the basis of feature-length films. Recent low-budget movies like Sharknado cost millions of dollars to produce. A capable GenAI system might be able to do it for orders of magnitude less. We begin to understand the potential impact of zero marginal creativity – that is, new expressions that cost almost nothing to make.
This near-infinite availability of innovation challenges our assumptions about copyright law. A utilitarian assumption has been that granting private IP rights beneficially increases the number of expressions in circulation. But is there a limit to how much we can digest? Infinite supply increases the difficulty of locating a given innovation amongst a sea of others, an experience that could be paralysing and wasteful. When the cost of innovating approaches zero, the ability of IP to reward upstream innovators falls apart, too (for the classic view, see Bechtold, Buccafusco and Sprigman, 2015). Rather than choose to in-license from an IP owner, a follow-on innovator might prefer to use GenAI to invent around the obstacle. If anyone can generate their own personal word processor to avoid buying a license from Microsoft, what happens to network externalities enjoyed from consensus ecosystems?
There are myriad challenges introduced by a world in which everything is available, all at once. Policymakers and creators may reach for stronger IP protection as a lifeboat, but IP on its own may not be adequate to successfully navigating the GenAI multiverse.
Azevedo, E. M., Deng, A., Montiel Olea, J. L., Rao, J., & Weyl, E. G. (2020). A/b testing with fat tails. Journal of Political Economy, 128 (12), 4614-000.
Bechtold, S., Buccafusco, C., & Sprigman, C. J. (2015). Innovation heuristics: Experiments on sequential creativity in intellectual property. Ind. LJ, 91, 1251.
Smith, Michael D., & Rahul Telang. (2009). Competing with free: The impact of movie broadcasts on DVD sales and Internet piracy. Mis Quarterly (2009): 321-338.
Thompson, B (2022). DALL-E, the Metaverse and Zero Marginal Content. Accessed 26 August 2023: https://stratechery.com/2022/dall-e-the-metaverse-and-zero-marginal-content/
Waldfogel, J. (2017). How digitization has created a golden age of music, movies, books, and television. Journal of economic perspectives, 31 (3), 195-214.