AI, the law and the ‘Digital Rembrandt’

University of Waikato launches tech-focused project for lawyers

The University of Waikato has launched the Technology in Legal Education for New Zealand (TeLENZ) project to equip future lawyers with the skills to handle the changes technology is creating in legal practice, saying the law is being transformed by technologies such as cyber security and AI.

The move comes as one New Zealand lawyer questions whether anyone can own copyright on a — very good — ‘digital Rembrandt’ created by artificial intelligence.

The Waikato University project is funded by a two-year, $350,000 grant from the New Zealand Law Foundation, in recognition that the legal services space is changing rapidly as a result of technology, “so that the environment graduates emerge into is very different from even five years ago.”

Dean of Law at the University of Waikato, associate professor Wayne Rumbles, said every law graduate in New Zealand should leave University with at least a basic understanding of how technology impacts law and the changing marketplace for legal services.

To this end the project will create an online community and toolkit for legal academics with a series of resources to be used, ranked into introductory, intermediate and advanced. The toolkit will include lesson plans, assessments and possibly even apps for students and academics to use.

Rumbles cites autonomous vehicles, the increasing use of video links to prisons rather than bringing prisoners to court, and AI as all changing how graduates are employed.

“A unique aspect of this project is that it brings together all the law schools around New Zealand, with representatives from each forming a working group, with subject groups under each.” Rumbles said.

AI paints a passable Rembrandt

George Jackson, a solicitor with law firm James & Wells has posted a blog on the firm’s website highlighting just one of the legal challenges presented by AI.

“One area of concern is whether AI can create something that might attract intellectual property (IP) rights,” he says.

“In New Zealand, a computer-generated work is considered to be authored by the person who ‘makes the necessary arrangements for the creation of the work’. Often this is the programmer. Generally speaking, the author is the owner of copyright, unless it has been on-sold to another person or entity.”

However: “AI throws a spanner in those works because there may not be an author – and therefore no owner – of any AI-generated works.”

He cites as an example theNext Rembrandt project in which a team conducted very extensive analysis of Rembrandt paintings – including 3D data from the layers of paint — and fed the data into an AI system instructing it to paint a Rembrandt. The output was 3D printed to reproduce brush strokes and paint layers. The result is very Rembrandt-like.

Jackson points out that copyright cannot be assigned to an AI system as the author of the work because “ AI systems are currently not recognised as legal or natural people,” but says neither can the programmers.

“The programmers did not know what the painting would look like and left it to the algorithm to work that out. Because of this, crucial creative decisions in forming the final painting were made by the algorithm and not the programmers.”

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