I signed up for an online discussion of Artificial Intelligence and the audiovidual sector, being run by the US Copyright Office. Somehow I was promoted to being a speaker. So I thought, I’d better take this seriously, and did a little experiment involving “AI software” and my own film, REPO MAN. The Copyright Office session started late and the first two panels ran over time (it was like being back in academia!) so in my little section we were limited to two minutes’ speaking time. These were my words:

My name is Alex Cox. I’m a writer and film director. Among my films are REPO MAN, SID & NANCY, WALKER, and TOMBSTONE RASHOMON. REPO MAN was made in 1983. The film is still under copyright. The copyright is owned by Universal Pictures. I own the US copyright to the original screenplay, sequels and remakes. So, in preparation for this panel I took my film as a test case and asked a friend at CU Boulder if a third party, who was using an AI program, would set his software this task: Write an outline for a feature film, Repo Man on Mars,

He got a response in seconds. It is a copyright litigator’s delight! Not only does the AI-generated document steal the plot, it steals specific sequences, dialogue suggestions, and uses the original character names – Otto Maddox, Bud, Leila, et al… The only substantive change the AI made was to relocate the story from LA to Mars.

The software which did this is called ChatGPT4. When its creators decided to “scrape the internet” so as to “train” or “educate” their program, they hoovered up the script and the film of REPO MAN, together with hundreds of thousands of other scripts, and films, and books, and plays, and pieces of music, and visual works of art. Some of this stuff was in the public domain. Much of it was not. In “scraping the internet” the creators of ChatGPT4 gained access to copyright material without a license. They did not even contact the copyright holders. This isn’t fair use, or fan fiction. It’s corporate theft of property, on an enormous scale.

ChatGPT4 is a project of Open AI. Open AI is a multi-billion-dollar, for-profit corporation. Microsoft owns 49% of it. Another 49% is owned by private investors, one of whom is said to be Elon Musk. When Open AI secretly entered my copyright material into their searchable database, without a contract, for a commercial purpose, they broke the law. By “scraping the internet” the AI companies have engaged in massive copyright theft. This is not a “potential problem of AI.” It is a signifigant, on-going criminal enterprise.

Who has the power to oppose this? In theory, the studios, music companies, and big five publishers should be all over it: they control the copyrights, so aren’t their interests at stake? In fact, I suspect we’re talking about the same corporate interests, the same handful of billionaires. John August of the Writers’ Guild explained why his Guild’s members are on strike. AI portends an artistic dystopia, where a producer can push a button and receive a third-rate manuscript full of stolen material, then hire a lowly-paid writer-technician to fix it and finesse the copyright theft.

Creators and artists look to the US Copyright Office to protect us!


That was what I said, more or less, in my two minutes. Overall I thought the participants in the event fell into two categories: AI grifters, and well-meaning librarian types. The AI grifters clearly hate “legacy” art and artists; they worship electrons and themselves. The librarian types are strangely defeated and apathetic. They know that this is all bullshit, and should be opposed. But they’ve given up before they started. “It isn’t going to be possible to label or identify AI” they say, dejectedly. “It’s in everything people use. It’s in Google, in Google Docs, in Facebook, in your personal home assistant…” Hasn’t it occurred to them that they can do without those things? That alternatives exist? That some things are just stupid, and not worth bothering about? And that others should be hurled into the fiery pit?

Clearly, the oligarchs and their corporations are trying to pull off yet another magical monpoly theft — ironically, of the copyright music and movies owned by the very same oligarchs and corporations, or their next-door neighbours. Thanks to benificent capitalism, a tiny fraction of the money copyrights generate currently trickles down to the artists who created the original material. AI should not be a tool to screw creatives by further denying them their copy rights.

Now, if you seek further suffering, here’s that ChatGPT AI-generated “Repo Man on Mars” outline:


I. Introduction

A. Year 2050: Life on Mars is a reality, and humanity has been living there for a decade.
B. Introduction of Otto Maddox, a 20-something Martian-born man with a rebellious streak, currently working in an Martian supermarket.
C. Otto’s frustrations with his mundane life, desire for excitement and adventure.

II. Discovery

A. Otto gets fired for his rebellious antics.
B. Befriending Bud, a seasoned ‘Repo Man’ working for the Helping Hand Martian Repo Service, who introduces him to the repo business – repossessing vehicles of those who can’t keep up with their payments.
C. Otto’s initial resistance, followed by acceptance after realizing this is his ticket to adventure.

III. Training and Life as a Repo Man

A. Bud trains Otto, teaching him the laws and philosophies of being a Repo Man – “The life of a Repo Man is always intense.”
B. Several adventurous episodes of car repossessions. Otto’s skills and confidence grow.
C. Otto learns about a mysterious “bounty” vehicle with an astronomical reward – a rover said to contain an alien artifact.

IV. The Mysterious Rover and the Artifact

A. Otto crosses paths with Leila, a member of a UFO conspiracy theorist group, who tells him about the alien artifact.
B. Introduction of rival repo men, the Rodriguez brothers, who are also after the bounty vehicle.
C. Otto becomes obsessed with finding the rover, starting a race against time and competition.

V. The Journey and Confrontation

A. Otto and Bud embark on a dangerous journey across Martian terrain, dealing with rival repo men, law enforcement, and the harsh Martian environment.
B. Confrontation between Otto, Bud, and the Rodriguez brothers. Bud gets injured, leaving Otto on his own.

VI. Unveiling the Alien Artifact

A. Otto finds the bounty vehicle, revealing the alien artifact – a device capable of terraforming Mars into a green planet.
B. A stand-off between Otto, Leila (who has been tracking Otto), and the Rodriguez brothers.

VII. Resolution

A. Otto outsmarts the Rodriguez brothers, secures the artifact, and decides to activate it for the greater good.
B. Leila chooses to help Otto, revealing that she has been trying to ensure the artifact doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

VIII. Conclusion

A. Mars begins its rapid terraforming process, shocking the entire colony and causing a frenzy.
B. Otto and Leila, now fugitives, leave Mars in the bounty vehicle, which is revealed to be a spacecraft.
C. Closing with the iconic line, “The life of a Repo Man is always intense” as they embark on their journey into the unknown, leaving a rapidly changing Mars behind.

{If you like listening to podcasts, I just did another one, mostly about the making of REPO MAN, forty years ago this summer, with the Hollywood Reporter.)