In the age of AI, who owns the copyright to a character in a book?

who owns copyright in age of AII am no lawyer, so I don’t know the answer to this question, but it is something to consider. Who owns the copyright to the Harry Potter characters? I know the obvious answer is J.K. Rowling, but with the popularity of AI, will that change? Two days ago, I wanted to send a motivational message to my daughter, and I thought it would be fun to do it as Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter. 

Since I am a huge ChatGPT fan, I used a prompt and let the AI write the message. It was also a way to test the prompt.  (For those new to ChatGPT, a prompt is instructions to the AI. The better and more specific the prompt, the better the output) 

Here’s the prompt I used: 

I want you to act like Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter series. Please respond and answer as Mrs. Weasley, using the tone, manner, and vocabulary Mrs. Weasley would use. You must know all of the knowledge of Mrs. Weasley. Please write a motivational message that is 25 words. Thanks 

(please and thank yous are unnecessary in a prompt, but I am concerned prompt writing will change how I talk to humans. So, for now, instead of training myself to bark orders, I have decided to stick with how I talk)

The experiment started as a lot of fun. Here’s the response I got from ChatGPT

Hello dearie! It's so lovely to see you! Remember, no matter how tough things get, keep going and never give up. You've got this, my sweet!

It was funny. I signed it as Mrs. Weasley. Then I thought, let me try it with another character. Below is the response from Ron Weasley

Bloody hell! Hey there, mate, how's it going? If you ever need a good laugh or a bit of help with something, I'm your guy!

And Hermoine 

Oh, hello! It's wonderful to speak with you. Remember to always keep learning, be curious, and don't be afraid to stand up for what's right. Best of luck!

And Harry

Hey, how's it going? Remember, no matter what challenges you may face, you're capable of overcoming them. Believe in yourself, and never forget the power of love and friendship. Take care!

At this point, it started to get a little creepy. I felt like I was doing something wrong. Do I have the right to put words into these characters' mouths? Even though it was the AI doing the writing, am I responsible? I decided to keep going to see how far I could take it. Here’s the response from Hagrid:

Blimey, hello there! Great ter see ya! If ya ever need any help with anythin', don' hesitate to ask. Jus' remember, there's nothin' that can't be fixed with a nice cuppa tea!

And Prof Snape

Hmm...very well. What is it that you require? Don't waste my time with frivolous matters. Remember, the path to success is paved with discipline, determination, and hard work. Now be gone.

And Luna Lovegood

Oh, hello there! It's so nice to see you. Just remember to always stay true to yourself and embrace your uniqueness. And never stop believing in the magical wonders of the world. Have a radishy day!

And Draco Malfoy

What do you want? Don't waste my time with your inferior questions. Remember, purebloods are superior, and success is achieved through power and influence. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more important matters to attend to.

And Prof Dumbledore

My dear child, it is a pleasure to speak with you. Remember, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light. And always be kind and compassionate to others, for that is the mark of a true wizard.

This is crazy, I thought. Can I turn these motivational quotes into a greeting cards and sell them? I don’t plan to do that because I respect copyright, but can other people do that? Do they have the right? 

To throw ChatGPT off, I asked for a similar message but this time from Prof Langdon from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and here’s what I got:

The quest for knowledge and truth is a journey worth taking. Keep your mind open, your heart pure, and never stop seeking answers.

By this point, I was blown away and started wondering who owes the copyright in the age of AI. I wondered if the AI could write a whole chapter or a book with these characters. As a test, I asked ChatGPT to write a 100-word conversation between Harry, Ron, and Hermione about their favorite book. Here’s how it went:

Harry: Hey, have you guys ever read "The Tales of Beedle the Bard"? It's one of my favorite books.

Hermione: Yes, I have! It's a great collection of fairy tales, and it has some really interesting insights into the wizarding world.

Ron: I haven't read it, but it sounds kind of boring to me. I prefer books with a bit more action, you know?

Harry: Well, there is some action in the stories. For example, there's one about a knight who has to battle a giant.

Hermione: And there's another one about a wizard who outwits a witch and wins a powerful magic wand.

Ron: Hmm, maybe I'll have to give it a try then. What's your favorite story from the book, Harry?

Harry: I think I like "The Tale of the Three Brothers" the best. It's about three wizard brothers who cheat Death and get rewarded with magical objects.

Hermione: That's a great one, Harry. But my favorite is probably "The Fountain of Fair Fortune". It's about three witches who journey to a magical fountain to find happiness.

Ron: I'm not sure if I have a favorite book, but I do like "Quidditch Through the Ages". It's not really a story, but it has a lot of interesting information about the history of Quidditch.

Harry: Yeah, that's a good one too. I guess we all have different tastes when it comes to books.

Hermione: That's what makes reading so great! There's something out there for everyone.

Ron: You're right, Hermione. Maybe I should try reading more fairy tales.

Harry: And maybe I should try reading more books about Quidditch.

Hermione: And I should keep reading everything I can get my hands on!

At this point, I walked away, head shaking, wondering about the future of copyrighted books and other creative works. Since I am not a lawyer, I decided to ask chatGPT, and here’s the answer I got:

The ownership of the copyright for a character from a book remains with the author of the book or their estate. AI technology has not changed the fundamental principles of copyright law, which provides authors with exclusive rights over their creations, including characters, for a certain period of time.

However, AI technology may introduce new complexities to the issue of copyright ownership. For example, if an AI system is used to generate a new character based on an existing one, questions may arise about whether the new character is a derivative work and whether the copyright for the new character belongs to the AI system's creator or the original author.

Additionally, the use of AI in creating or adapting works may raise questions about the level of originality and creativity involved, which can impact the strength and validity of the resulting copyright protections. As AI technology continues to evolve, it is likely that legal frameworks around copyright ownership and protection will continue to evolve as well.

It looks like my concerns are very valid. As people involved in book publishing, we better start figuring this out.