Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property

The Reality of Augmented Reality and Copyright Law

Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property

The Reality of Augmented Reality and Copyright Law

Article excerpt


Digital technology continually evolves in a variety of mediums. Innovation increases one's ability to express ideas and facts through new technological facets. In the realm of augmented reality ("AR"), this has taken on different forms by combining the physical and digital worlds through an augmentation or addition process.

The highly applicable nature of AR technology is part of what makes its advent so exciting. However, this also presents several issues. For example, is there originality when a work is created within an AR platform which warrants a copyright? If so, is it the programmer or the end user who owns the copyright to this creation?

The programmer develops the code which allows for the AR to exist. However, it is the end user who creates his or her own destiny within an interactive game sequence, for example. It is also the end user who can utilize the medium to create a piece of artwork. The line between who owns what becomes blurred as the end user is not a typical end user, but at the same time, he is dependent on the coding constraints developed by the programmer.

After issues pertaining to copyright and authorship have been addressed, one should also look at what rights may be infringed on or violated by a particular activity. In other words, what conflicts can be anticipated? What are the possible defenses to these potential infringements?

Based upon the myriad of possible copyright infringement scenarios, this Note will argue that AR should be treated differently from other forms of digital technology because by its very nature, AR is a combination of the physical and real world. For a person to meaningfully use AR to make new works, he is likely to be at stake of copyright infringement. Therefore, there needs to be a reconceptualization of what copyright protects with regards to AR.1

Furthermore, it will be very difficult and inefficient to find potential copyright infringers based upon the sheer volume of works that can be created with AR and the way they can be stored, seeing as though many works may never make it into the public, but may instead remain stored within the AR equipment software.


AR has been around for quite some time in some shape or form. Think back to the days of Robocop and the superimposed images he saw as he scanned the premises for villains. Most recently, anyone who has watched an NFL game has seen AR used by sports broadcasters to draw a digital first down marker onto the field. AR is on the verge of becoming mainstream with the emergence of headset devises such as Microsoft HoloLens. Another strong indicator is the large amount of venture capital being poured into this space. In 2016, Alibaba led a Series C investment of $793.5 million in Magic Leap, well before the company had any product on the market.2 By 2018, the estimated annual capital investment in AR applications alone will exceed $2.5 billion.3 In addition to investments, technology companies are beginning to make acquisitions as illustrated by Apple's decision to acquire an AR company, Metaio, in 2015.4

But what is AR exactly, and just how much of a market will there be for this technology? To begin with, let us define the term "augment." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means "to make greater, more numerous, larger, or more intense."5 While it is similar in some ways to its technological cousin virtual reality ("VR"), "VR is closed and fully immersive, while AR is open and partly immersive-you can see through and around it.6 Where VR puts users inside virtual worlds, immersing them, AR puts virtual things into users' real worlds, augmenting them."7 While VR is great for complete immersion in video games, "AR has the potential to play the same role in our lives as mobile phones with hundreds of millions of users. You could wear it anywhere, doing anything."8 It has been predicted that AR technology will be utilized by 1 billion users by 2020 and 2. …

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