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Ohio bill calls for AI watermarks, criminalizes 'simulated obscene material' of kids

 The Rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The Rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse.

Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would crack down on artificial intelligence, including through requiring a watermark on anything that is AI-generated.

Under Senate Bill 217, if AI programs neglect to include watermarks or individuals remove them after the fact, they could be sued by the attorney general or for damages by individual residents.

The bill also adds “simulated obscene material” to the state’s definition of child pornography, making it a third-degree felony to create or distribute it and a fourth-degree felony to buy or have it.

In February, the federal court in the Western District of Kentucky charged a Louisville teacher for distribution of child sexual abuse materials, some of which had been altered. Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Colerain Township) said reading about the case was “unbelievably frightening,” as Kentucky statute does similarly little to address the issue.

“It looks like child porn, basically is child porn, but since it’s AI, somehow in the eyes of the law it’s not accounted for, and that’s just wrong,” Blessing said in an interview.

A further-along proposal that includes similar child sexual abuse material provisions is making its way through the Kentucky General Assembly this legislative session.

Blessing introduced SB 217 with Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) in late January, Blessing said, after Attorney General Dave Yost’s office reached out in the fall about getting a bill drafted. Yost has already publicly backed the proposal.

“Child pornography has long been outlawed in Ohio, but the unchecked rise of AI has created a gray area for predators to fuel their sick fantasies,” he said in a news release.

So far, one Democrat—Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati)—is cosponsoring SB 217.

Blessing said emerging, and constantly changing tech, can be like Whac-A-Mole. “It's not something that's easy to legislate because the regulatory terrain here is so new,” he said.

The bill is narrowly tailored, he said—it wouldn’t target two consenting adults who might create AI pornography. But another set of provisions in the bill would prohibit using someone’s voice or likeness without their permission “for malicious purposes,” making it a crime as well.

SB 217 was referred to the senate judiciary committee in February but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau.