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Can AI-Generated Art be Copyrighted? The Legal Implications

AI art generators like NightCafe enable anyone to create and search AI art with just a couple of keywords. But as with any technology, there are a couple of legal and ethical implications that have to be addressed. In this space, these typically revolve around one heavy question: Who owns AI-generated art? Copyright laws differ in every country, but in many markets, including the United States and Australia, AI-generated art can’t be copyrighted—at least for now. 

What Is AI-Generated Art?

AI-generated art refers to artwork made by artificial intelligence using software, computers, or other electronic devices. It’s created by a system trained on huge amounts of content scraped from the web. 

A user inputs keywords to the platform, and it gathers everything that it knows about those keywords and transforms it into a piece based on that. The more specific a user is, the more the art will come out in the exact way he or she wants it to. But just general terms work, too. So, if you’re creating AI-generated art and are wondering why AI images look weird, you might want to adjust your prompts.

Can AI-Generated Art be Copyrighted?

Whether AI-generated art can be copyrighted depends on the laws of each country. However, generally, it’s not eligible for copyright because it doesn’t fulfil one important criterion: human involvement.

In many countries, art is protected by copyright automatically without charge. But this is subject to certain criteria, such as medium and authorship. For example, in Australia, a work can only be copyrighted if there is a human author who contributed “independent intellectual effort.” That said, if a person can demonstrate substantial involvement in AI-generated art, granting of copyright is possible.

Who Owns AI-Generated Art?

The authorship and ownership of AI-generated art is a highly disputed topic. Under most copyright laws, the author and owner of a piece of art is the creator of the work. But with AI-generated art, the work is made by AI. So who owns it: the creator or the AI? And if it’s the latter, is it the programmer who made the AI, or the people who prepared its training data?

The AI Artist Versus the AI Company

If this were just like any other piece of art, AI-generated works would be authored and owned by the person who created them. But the intervention of technology makes this argument a tricky one. 

Still, AI-generated art wouldn’t be made without human intervention in the first place. It’s the person who feeds the keywords to the machine that makes it, so many argue that the artists should still be given copyright. But technically, the AI was the one who created the piece, and in that sense, ownership should be attributed to the platform. 

This opens up another question of authorship–will the owner be the company who owns the AI, or the programmers or developers who trained the AI (which, in the AI art generator industry, is typically a third party)? As AI becomes even more intelligent, it can even be argued that it should be attributed to the platform itself. 

The consensus is then that AI-generated art isn’t solely owned by one entity. Artists can claim some form of ownership, and if they can prove that they’ve had substantial involvement in the creation of the piece, then they’re eligible for copyright in the same way traditional artists are.

AI-Generated Art and Copyrighted Images

Beyond the topic of ownership lies another issue on already copyrighted images. Because AI art generators use scraped media from the web, there are bound to be some copyrighted pieces in there. So, does AI art steal art?

Most tech companies behind AI art generators justify their practices through fair use, which allows the use of copyright-protected work as a form of free expression. And while this is generally legal, the art that AI generators produce falls in an ambiguous space. 

If the platform is trained on millions of media to generate art that has been transformed in the process, then it can’t be considered copyright infringement since the output is completely different, plus it doesn’t threaten the market for the original art. On the other hand, if the program is tuned to generate art that’s specific to one copyright theme, style, or art, then that could have great legal repercussions.

In Conclusion

The rules around the copyright of AI-generated art have yet to be fully established, but as the industry grows, AI companies and AI artists are taking steps to clarify lines of ownership while giving credit where credit is due. If you’re interested in getting into the AI-generated art world, NightCafe can help you get started with your first piece!

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