Divine Copyright, AI-Generated Works, and the Hypocrisy of Copyright Law

AI-Generated works and works attributed to gods, higher powers, or other divine beings possess a similarity: they both raise questions about copyright and non-human authorship. However, while courts have somehow managed to find that the “originality” requirement was met in works created by divine beings,[1] they have not reached the same conclusion with AI-generated work.[2]

From the standpoint of how courts have treated divine works, I think this is hypocritical.

Copyright in Works Made by Divine Beings

In the realm of religion, it is not uncommon for humans to attribute authorship to a divine or supernatural source, with themselves serving as mere conduits to convey the message to the public. Let’s take a quick look at one such case.

Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra[3]

The Urantia Foundation and Maaherra engaged in a copyright dispute regarding The Urantia Book. The book, believed to be authored by celestial beings, was channeled through individuals. The Foundation, formed to preserve and disseminate these teachings, obtained a copyright for The Urantia Book based on the channeled content. Maaherra, distributing the book’s entire text as a study aid, faced a lawsuit for copyright infringement. While both parties agreed on the verbatim copying, Maaherra challenged the validity of the copyright, contending that the absence of a human author invalidated it. Maaherra claimed that the Foundation did not rightfully own the copyright for The Urantia Book due to its celestial authorship.

Rejecting this argument, the court acknowledged that the book met the originality criteria set forth by the Copyright Act and Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc. The court highlighted that while the copyright laws do not necessitate human authorship, they do require an element of human creativity. It categorized the Book as a compilation and reasoned that the Contact Commission, as the initial human compilers of the celestial communications, legitimately owned the copyright.

Referring to the Feist originality standard, the court emphasized that the Contact Commission’s formulation of questions to the spirits and arrangement of the Papers demonstrated the minimal required degree of creativity. Thus, the court affirmed that the Contact Commission possessed a common law copyright over the Urantia Papers at the time of their creation.

It is worth thinking about the foregoing in the context of AI, which often involves formulating questions and arranging an output. But how much originality is required anyway?

Copyright and the Requirement of Originality

Copyright laws of most legal systems hold that an author of a work must be a human being. In the United States, for instance, a work must exhibit “at least a modicum” of creativity and be the independent creation of the author. Under the EU originality criterion, a creation qualifies as a work if: 1. the creation is the author’s own original creation; 2. the creation reflects his or her personality; 3. the author, in conjunction with the creation of his/her work, has been able to express his/her creative ability by making free and creative choices and thus stamping his/her personal touch on the work.

AI-Generated Works vs Divine Works: Who Makes More Creative Choices?

If the above requirement can be said to have been met for amanuenses, then arguments against granting copyright to AI-generated works cannot stand. So far, we know that AI-generated works do not appear from thin air, entirely without any form of human creativity. We also know that a person who acts as a mere conduit, a person who is literally dictated to, cannot be considered to have put more creativity into work compared to one who actually instructs and chooses whether an output meets their needs. If courts can recognize copyright even when humans merely act as conduits for divine dictation, there is no reason to deny copyright to original works generated through actual human prompts.

As such, a user of an AI platform should as a general rule be deemed to have contributed a sufficient amount of creativity in outputs and should be granted copyright. And even if the legal terminology may not classify the prompter of AI-generated works as the “author,” it is justifiable to at least recognize them as the rightful copyright holder.

Recognizing copyright for AI-generated works aligns with past precedents, ensuring a uniform legal framework accommodating technological advancements. In addition, ensuring predictability and consistency in law is crucial. Courts should contemplate granting copyright protection to AI-generated creations to maintain consistency in applying copyright principles. They should acknowledge the human input involved, however little, in making AI-generated content. It is an “extremely low” threshold after all.[4]


By examining the legal considerations and precedents set in religious copyright cases, we gain insights into the requirement and level of human creativity in-copyright works. This parallel suggests that AI-generated works, too, rely on human contributions, perhaps even more than divine works, and as such should also be accorded copyright protection.

[1] For example, see Urantia Found. v. Kristen Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 1997) (while the court noted that Copyright law did not intend to protect the creations of divine beings, it held that the selection and arrangement of the “revelations” by humans met the “‘extremely low’ threshold level of creativity required for copyright protection”, see also Cummins v. Bond

[2] See Stephen Thaler v. Shira Perlmutter and The United States Copyright Office (1:22-cv-01564) (June 2, 2022). Also, note that AI-generated works are those created “solely by artificial intelligence” and should be distinguished from works made with the assistance of AI.

[3] 114 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 1997).

[4] See Urantia Found. v. Kristen Maaherra,  and also the Penguin books case. Here the Southern District of New York denominated as the “author” the transcriber of works allegedly dictated by the “Voice of Jesus.”

About Seun Lari-Williams 28 Articles
Called to the Nigerian bar in 2014, Seun has extensive experience working as a litigation lawyer in Nigeria and as an IP Consultant. He has worked closely with diverse clients in the entertainment industry, helping them innovate faster while protecting their IP. He has also garnered experience working with a patent law firm in Brussels, Belgium. He studied law at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and obtained an LL.M in IP & Competition Law from the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center, Germany. Seun is the 2021 winner of the ALAI European Author’s Rights Award.

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