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Who Owns AI Art? (Video)

Image: The Verge

By Adi Robertson 

In 2022, James Allen filed a copyright application for an image titled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” or “Space Opera Theater.” While the picture had the look of a detailed sci-fi painting, Allen had actually created it through painstaking experimentation in the AI image generator Midjourney; he described using over 600 prompt variations to get the look he wanted.

But the US Copyright Office wasn’t impressed. In a series of decisions, Allen’s work became one of the first copyright requests rejected specifically for using AI tools — and an example of how these tools are raising new copyright conundrums at virtually every turn.

Generative AI programs — particularly image generators like Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and DALL-E — have raised fundamental questions about how far artists’ rights to their work extend. Many are trained on huge datasets that include copyrighted works without artists’ consent, and in the US, a series of lawsuits could determine whether the applications fall under the framework of exceptions known as fair use.

Meanwhile, the US Copyright Office holds that a computer program can’t make copyright-protected art, frustrating people who see DALL-E or Stable Diffusion as tools akin to Photoshop.

Copyright exists to encourage the production of art, but copyright law also recognizes that most art draws on work that came before it — that’s why exceptions like fair use exist. There’s a constant balancing act in play, and when a new technology appears, it can require renegotiating that balance. Where will it fall in the case of AI? So far, nobody knows for sure.

This article originally appeared here and was republished with permission.

The Verge is an ambitious multimedia effort founded in 2011 to examine how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience. Our original editorial insight was that technology had migrated from the far fringes of the culture to the absolute center as mobile technology created a new generation of digital consumers. Now, we live in a dazzling world of screens that has ushered in revolutions in media, transportation, and science. The future is arriving faster than ever.