João Marinotti, Fellow at the Indiana University Center for Intellectual Property Research, and the Jerome Hall Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University, and Asaf Lubin, Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University, discuss the legal implications on the copyright, contract, and human rights as witnessed in the American science fiction show “Upload”…

In April 2020, Amazon released a comedy series called “Upload.” The show extrapolates a future in which technological advances have led to the successful simulation of human consciousness in silico. This technology is used by companies to “upload” dying individuals into digital worlds where they can “live” in perpetuity. When uploaded, human consciousness is converted into data and executable code, which can be edited, throttled, or even deleted depending on each upload’s membership plan and payment status. By portraying this world, the show breaks the boundaries between reality and virtual reality, consciousness and artificial intelligence, and even life and afterlife, entangling various legal questions in novel ways.

Given that such upload technologies are not expected anytime soon, it may seem strange to give “Upload” any sort of legal analysis. The show’s world-building, however, provides an opportunity to explore—through a possible distant future—the legal, social, and business decisions being made today. It serves as an exaggerated mirror through which we explore legal norms that are currently taken for granted. 

Three interrelated topics serve as the foundation of our analysis: (i) the distinction between human consciousness and artificial intelligence in the context of copyright and contract law; (ii) how legal personhood may be doctrinally denied to “uploaded” minds, even if they are—for the sake of argument—as capable, conscious, and creative as living human minds; and (iii) how the power imbalance between individuals and technology companies will continue to exacerbate the problem of contracts of adhesion and surveillance capitalism (even after physical death!). Ultimately, we conclude that an unyielding, unquestioning, myopic desire for digital rights (at all costs) may lead to the unintentional loss of crucial non-digital rights.

“Upload” depicts a future in which the current legal regimes of copyright and contract law unintentionally reinstate a virtual form of servitude, robbing individuals of agency, autonomy, and ultimately legal personhood. To…

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