Don’t Let The Copyright Fight Take Away My Ability To Create

Elisa Rae Shupe / Apr 30, 2024

"Monique's typewriter" by jetheriot is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

As I write this, I have a sense of achievement. Thanks to advancements in generative AI, I've found a new voice as a writer, overcoming the severe challenges my cognitive disabilities posed in organizing words on a page. But because of ongoing uncertainty about whether works generated with AI should be eligible to receive a copyright, I had to take a step that most authors do not to secure the rights to my intellectual property. My story should prompt those interested in the intersection of AI and copyright law to think about what principles we want the law to support.

Now 60, I’m a retired US veteran. Although I entered the Army as a tank mechanic during the 1982 recession, my superiors soon realized I was a gifted writer. I became known for turning out top-notch evaluation reports, awards, memos, etc. However, as the mental illnesses that plague me manifested, my writing abilities deteriorated.

I didn’t know why I’d suffered a troubling decline until I got properly diagnosed. Since retiring, I’ve been rated as 100% disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security. I suffer from C-PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, a Chiara 1 brain stem malformation, and gender dysphoria. Each of these diagnoses severely impacts my cognitive and creative abilities uniquely. Simple, mundane activities that others do effortlessly are like formidable mountains that I must navigate.

It's always been my dream to become a published author. I had made peace with the likelihood that it wouldn't happen in this lifetime because of my debilitating mental health conditions. But ‌AI technology has changed that. Big tech companies that people speak poorly about gave me a lifeline.

For me, standing on other people’s shoulders to create isn’t about copying other people’s work, or simply entering a text prompt and using whatever ChatGPT spits out. My first book got painstakingly built sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. I describe my use of ChatGPT as a reverse camera.

To create, I tell a tool like ChatGPT what I see in my head for a writing scene. It then helps me decode my creative vision into usable material, enabling me to compete in the marketplace and meet Amazon’s publishing requirements. Each sentence and paragraph built on my input is a mental conception from my mind’s eye that gets translated. I then work to further refine it. Other AI tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid enable me to do that.

The result is, for the first time, I can create long form content in a manner that doesn't trigger my mental health issues to shut down the creative process.

I hope people appreciate my novel, because I want to inspire others to write, to create, particularly those who also suffer from disabilities. If AI can enable my creativity and break through those disabilities, I’m convinced others can do the same.

Regrettably, individuals who rely on AI assistants frequently get treated as inferior. Disparaging rhetoric gets hurled from entities and organizations in the status quo that fear this technology because they believe it threatens their livelihoods.

That sort of negativity erases the work of people like me, who use AI as an assistant to achieve what would otherwise be impossible. Worse, it’s behind the misguided frenzy to enact bad copyright policies that will restore barriers to writing for people like me.

Some appear to want AI developers to be forced to get an express license before using copyrighted works when training AI tools. This would not only dramatically jeopardize the abilities of one of the large language models that I use, it also wouldn’t actually do much to help artists get paid. These tools train on billions of works, so any individual author isn’t likely to get more than a few pennies or dollars. It’s unclear whether money will flow to authors at all.

The Copyright Office (USCO) has rejected many copyright registrations for AI generated works. I’m proud to have pushed back. Because I did, I received a copyright for my book’s arrangement of AI generated text: a work of human authorship. However, I believe the USCO should have gone further. They should not have forced me to exclude the AI-generated text, which weakens the strength of my copyright protection. I strongly believe accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should get extended to writers with crippling disabilities. It’s advocacy that I hope others will build on.

In the future, I hope that debates about AI will involve disabled creators like me in a more inclusive manner. I appreciate that others have significant concerns about these tools, and I voiced that in an open letter with other artists who use AI to create. All too often, major corporations and other powerful entities use technology in ways that exploit artists’ labor and undermine our ability to make a living. So, if you seek to ensure generative AI’s revolutionary trajectory benefits all of humanity, it would be a gross oversight to exclude those among us in society who are working within its potential and its limitations.

Authorship should include individuals like myself who have overcome countless obstacles to reach this point.


Elisa Rae Shupe
Elisa Rae Shupe, known in the literary world as Ellen Rae, is a pioneering figure among a unique cadre of writers. Despite the stigma, she openly employs artificial intelligence to bridge gaps—in her case, from disabilities and a lack of traditional education in writing. This stance places her at th...