Entertainment and Media Guide to AI

Legal issues in AI part 2 - Gavel icon

Read time: 5 minutes


The emergence of artificial intelligence has fundamentally transformed our understanding and use of data, and raises complex legal issues, particularly with regard to data ownership. This article addresses the complexities of the legal frameworks governing data ownership in the age of AI.

Can data be owned?

Data is free flowing information. There is no standard definition of the term “data.” The Joint Technical Committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) proposes the following definition of the term:

“Reinterpretable representation of information in a formalized manner suitable for communication, interpretation, or processing.”

At the most basic level, data is just information. For example, the fact that a texture belongs to a genre called “brick” or “steel” is information that is not capable of appropriation in itself. This lack of ownership of data stems from the fundamental principle that information, ideas, methods and techniques are free and free flowing.

Data is information. Whether or not any person has a proprietary or “ownership” interest in data rests on the question whether the law has created a specific property regime for that type of data, also called “intellectual property. In most countries, there exist only five types of data susceptible of being protected by intellectual property: (i) works of art and other subject-matters from the creative industries; (ii) databases; (iii) software; (iv) trademarks and (v) patentable inventions. Simply put, data which does not fall within one of the aforementioned categories may not be “owned.” Of course, this does not mean that one is entirely free to use and re-use data which is not “intellectual property,” since other type of restrictions might apply to the data, as discussed below.

Key takeaways
  • In most countries, there are only five categories of data susceptible to being protected by intellectual property
  • Data that does not fall into one of those categories may not be “owned”
  • Data that is classified as “intellectual property” is still subject to a number of possible restrictions