Protecting Your Copyright From AI Tools

A man viewing an art exhibit through a VR headset. June 11, 2024 By: Nikki Golden, CAE

Is your association’s content safe from AI? The technology introduces challenges and opportunities—take steps to ensure your association is using it wisely and safeguarding from theft.

One of the most pressing challenges associations face with AI is the looming threat to copyright protection. In fact, 43% of survey respondents to a recent survey completed by the ASAE Communications Professional Advisory Council, said that “concern about copyright issues” is the second biggest challenge behind “concern for misinformation/incorrect information” (71%). Coming in third was “don’t want to provide association information to large language models” (37%).

Challenges of AI and Copyright for Associations

Associations aren’t the only entities worried about protecting their copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office launched an initiative in 2023 to examine the current copyright law and policies as they pertain to AI. They are now on the back end of this process, after convening listening sessions and public webinars and then publishing a notice of inquiry in the Federal Register that garnered more than 10,000 comments. They are expected to issue a report over the course of this coming year on their findings and recommendations.

To back up a step, AI is a technology that “enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities,” according to IBM. “On its own or combined with other technologies, AI can perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence or intervention.”

ChatGPT is the most commonly discussed AI system, using a large language model to “train” AI on providing content based on the prompt. The more content is put into the large language model, either by combing the web or getting content people put into it through its prompts, the more it “learns.” AI image generators work the same way, but with images.

Understanding AI and Its Implications for Associations

For associations, the copyright issues are twofold. First, associations want to know how to protect copyrighted material on websites from being scraped into a large language model. Second, they want to know how to create policies allowing for useful AI tools to be incorporated into workflows to create efficiencies while protecting an association’s trademarks and copyrights.

Right now, content generated by AI without human input cannot be copyrighted, says Kimberly Pendo, founding member and COO of Chicago Law Partners, a law firm that specializes in nonprofit organizations and its related for-profit business entities. According to Pendo, the U.S. Copyright Office and courts have held that only content and works with human authors can receive copyright protection.

And, if a staff member uses an AI tool to generate content, they may unknowingly infringe on another entity’s copyright. It’s important to have policies in place on how staff can and can’t use AI tools.

This also goes for what gets put into AI, Pendo says. For instance, some search engines are now using AI to collect information input for a search, which can inadvertently open your organization up to security breaches, depending on what information gets shared. “It’s important to understand the different tools that you’re using, whether it is generative AI, and how each piece of tech works in order to make informed decisions,” she says.

Strategies for Protecting Association Content

Even when you’ve paid for a tool to protect your content from being shared into the large language model, it’s important to understand that this isn’t fully protecting your association’s content as terms of services can change.

To truly protect your association’s content, Pendo has the following suggestions:

  • Copyright your material so that you can take legal action if you find out it was used somewhere without permission
  • Use watermarks and identifying marks to establish your association’s ownership
  • Always include attribution in all your content
  • Monitor where your content shows up and demand it be taken down if used without permission (consider setting up Google alerts for branded programs)
  • Consider embedding content fingerprinting on your association’s materials

Stay tuned for part two, which will delve more into creating policies that set your association up for success in using AI tools while also protecting its intellectual property.

Nikki Golden, CAE

Nikki Golden, CAE, is a strategist with Association Laboratory in Chicago and a member ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.