These works are also literary in nature, rather than being mere forms of gimmicky entertainment. A literary work differs from other forms of creative works in that it holds a deeper meaning, or says something about life or society. This definition, however, is not exclusive to works that were generated in a certain form. A randomly generated poem can still hold a deeper meaning, particularly if the poet put a great deal of time and effort into searching until they found just the right poem. If a Google poet rejects multiple search results because they don’t hold the meaning they are trying to express, however, then this is no different from a traditional poet searching the thesaurus and rejecting multiple synonyms until they find just the right word. In the end, the result is still a creative work that the poet made through a certain process, regardless of whether part of that process is partially random.
Despite the fact that Google poems can be seen as creative and literary works, it can still be hard to consider who is the author of a poem. The Google Poetics site doesn’t list any of the authors, and in the FAQ for the site, they explain this by saying, “Typically the same poem, or nearly the same, is sent to us by several people.” This statement points out one of the flaws in “found poetry”: it can be found by more than one person. The Google search suggestions are based on a number of factors, and they can change over time depending on the recent trends in searches by all of Google’s users. Individual results may also change if a user is logged into their Google account, since Google will customize an individual’s search results based on their history. However, despite the differences, it’s possible for more than one person, typing in the same search results on the same day, to generate the same poem. Because of this, no one person can truly be considered the “author” of that poem. This could change with works that have a greater degree of personal control. For example, if a poet collected lines from Google and then rearranged them to send the message they wish to send, then they will be creating a work that is unique and differs from the results anyone else on Google could find. The unmodified search results, however (which comprise the majority of the results on the Google Poetics site) cannot truly be credited to any one author.
This question of authorship then leads into the question of copyright. If a poem cannot be considered to have a single author, can it be covered under copyright? The US Copyright Office defines the author of a work as “the creator of the original expression in a work.” When a poem is a found work, rather than an original work, it is difficult to consider the poet to truly be the creator of that work. Furthermore, the Google Terms of Service page says that “using our Services does not give you ownership of any intellectual property rights in our Services or the content you access.” Based on this, and due to the fact that it is Google’s computer code that actually generates these poems, it seems reasonable to say that any Google poems are in fact property of Google. Despite this, the Google Poetics website marks their content as copyrighted, and it may be with regard to their web page and how it displays the work posted there. However, since another poet could easily “find” the same poem on Google and post it separately on their own web page, the content itself is not covered under copyright law; only the format that the Google Poetics site uses to display it is covered. Since the Google poems on the site are posted as screenshots of the search results, and anyone can take the same screenshot from a different computer, Google Poetics cannot claim ownership over the work, only over their individual application of it.
Copyright laws may need to be updated as we continue moving into the digital age, and more grey areas like this emerge. In the meantime, poets creating this sort of randomly-generated work should use caution, and understand that the work that they post may not be considered their own. However, Google poems offer poets a new form of creative expression that, despite the differences from the norm, still result in original work that is clearly a product of their own talent and imagination.