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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

AI images lose copyright protections

The decision by the US Copyright Office is among the first to deal with AI-generated artwork and intellectual property

A US federal agency has concluded that artwork made using artificial intelligence does not qualify for copyright protections, saying such images were not created by a human being and cannot be registered as legitimate IP.

The US Copyright Office outlined its stance in a recent letter to graphic novelist Kris Kashtanova, who attempted to register a work containing images created with the help of the ‘Midjourney’ AI software. The office would only agree to copyright elements written and arranged by a human author.

“The fact that Midjourney’s specific output cannot be predicted by users makes Midjourney different for copyright purposes than other tools used by artists,” the letter said, adding “The process by which a Midjourney user obtains an ultimate satisfactory image through the tool is not the same as that of a human artist, writer, or photographer.”

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The Midjourney system uses text prompts entered by users to generate unique images, mirroring similar AI-based programs that have rapidly grown in popularity in recent years, such as the DALL-E deep learning model. The use of computer-generated art has stoked controversy among creators and consumers alike, with critics warning that automated systems could someday replace human creativity and rob artists of work

With artificial intelligence advancing at a blistering pace, courts have yet to settle a number of questions surrounding intellectual property and AI art, leaving creators in a state of legal limbo. 

In its letter, the Copyright Office explained that some established guidelines could be applied to AI images, noting that works must be “independently created by the author” and have “sufficient creativity.”

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“In cases where non-human authorship is claimed, appellate courts have found that copyright does not protect the alleged creations,” it said, citing several prior court decisions. 

A lawyer for Kashtanova stated that her graphic novel should be registered for copyright because she “authored every aspect of the work,” maintaining that the Midjourney software was merely an “assistive tool.” The office did not accept that argument, however, ultimately refusing to register any part of her book created using AI. 

Kashtanova nonetheless hailed the decision as “great news,” noting that the office did allow copyrights for her novel’s story and “the way the images were arranged.” She added that the guidelines laid would protect “a lot of uses for the people in the AI art community.”


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