March 14, 2024


Should AI art be protected by copyright laws?

We’re entering a tricky, or some might say, dangerous time when an image you’re looking at might not be real, but AI-generated. It’s a hot topic these days everywhere, from courtrooms to the houses of power. There are deepfakes of people, manipulated images, etc, circulating freely as the tools necessary to make them are available to all.

But what about the high-stakes world of art? Andy Warhol once said, “Art is what you can get away with.” The art world is worth billions of dollars. People are inspired by artistic styles, techniques, and imagery and put their visions on canvas. If a person, any person, makes a piece of AI-generated art, can they claim copyright to it? Some artists believe they can. Others ask why such an important law should apply to something not conceptualised and made by a human.


Right now, any work created solely by AI, even if it’s produced from a text prompt written by a human, isn’t protected by copyright. However, the interesting part is that using copyrighted materials to train AI models is fair game. That’s because of a fair use law that allows the use of copyrighted material under some conditions without permission from the owner.

As it’s understood, AI-generated content is defined as text, video, code, audio, and any other media produced by generative AI tools. A model is trained on large amounts of data to create outputs based on inputs by the user, like a word, phrase, or question.

The AI-art gold rush seemingly began in earnest several years ago when Christie’s sold “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy”, an algorithm-generated print in the style of 19th-century European portraiture, for $432,500. Needless to say, the art world was shocked. It was created by a computer program based on patterns of existing work. The artists at the French collective Obvious hadn’t even written the algorithm.

The point is, why should something that involved very little human involvement or ingenuity be allowed to fetch so much money? Then again, would the untrained eye be able to tell the difference between a piece of art generated by AI and anything that isn’t? There’s a passionate crowd that condemns galleries and exhibitors for showcasing works done by computers rather than humans. It’s a fair point, given the larger conversation about AI taking over people’s jobs.

The issue of copyright is tied to this conundrum – how far does an artist’s rights to their work extend? We now have tools like Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and DALL-E. These models are trained on datasets that include copyrighted works without consent.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Copyright exists to encourage more art, but copyright law also recognises that art draws from works that came before. It’s why the fair use exemption exists. It’s a balancing act. When any new technology comes to the fore, there’s a need to reassess that balance.

But what is that balance? Should AI-generated art have the full protection of copyright laws? Or would that be a mistake and send the wrong message?

VIEW: A mistake to protect AI-generated art

When a piece of AI-generated art called “A Recent Entrance into Paradise” was at the centre of a copyright fight, a federal judge rejected its copyright claim. The judge stated that there hasn’t been a case where a court recognised copyright in a work generated by a nonhuman. He added that we’re now entering new frontiers in copyright as artists add AI to their toolbox.

While copyright law doesn’t close the door to technology entirely, it’s human creativity that ultimately needs to be protected. Last year’s months-long labour strikes in Hollywood were, in part, due to creatives wanting protections from AI. But the problem lies even before artists enter a prompt. It’s the fact that AI models are trained on large data sets of previous works that are copyrighted. Getty Images sued Stability AI for copying millions of images protected by copyright. Several media houses, including the New York Times, sued OpenAI and Microsoft for using their articles to train AI models.

For copyright law to be applied, there needs to be an author. An AI-generated piece of art inherently has no human author. It’s just an algorithm making something up based on inputs and analysing hundreds of pieces of content. For artists in any discipline, it’s a crucial time. Will their hard work be treated just as content to be fed into an algorithm, or will it be rightfully protected by the pertinent laws?

COUNTERVIEW: Keep the door open

For all the fervour among artists and creatives, there’s a decent amount of support for bringing AI-generated art under the copyright umbrella. There’s a need to recognise the times we live in and the tools on offer. Laws need to keep up and be flexible. Concerning copyright law, think of an AI artist as a photographer. They both explore the landscape for images. In a literal sense, the images produced by both are by software. An AI artist might look at hundreds of specific prompts to produce an image. There might not be anything random about it.

The copyright law needs to be updated. For starters, there’s no clear definition of Artificial Intelligence. Photoshop has features that could be described as AI-based. Should artists or photographers disclaim copyright if they use these tools? If you’re betting big on AI and its usefulness for artists, the laws need to keep pace. Otherwise, the world might be deprived of creative works that can only be done with the latest technology.

Generative AI will change the nature of content creation, including the art world. It will enable many to do what, until now, only a few have the skills or technology to do. That means more independent artists can come to the fore and earn a living. It might no longer be a space for the elite few. If that’s to happen, copyright legislation needs to be amended and recognise that the interaction of humans with technology isn’t something new and will only become more ubiquitous.

Reference Links:

  • Where the AI Art Boom Came From—and Where It’s Going – Wired
  • AI-Generated Content and Copyright Law: What We Know – Builtin
  • The Past, Present, and Future of AI Art – The Gradient
  • How We Think About Copyright and AI Art – Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • The Copyright Office is making a mistake on AI-generated art – Ars Technica
  • Can AI-generated art be copyrighted? A US judge says not, but it’s just a matter of time – The Guardian
  • As Fight Over A.I. Artwork Unfolds, Judge Rejects Copyright Claim – The New York Times

What is your opinion on this?

a) AI-generated art shouldn’t be protected by copyright laws.

b) AI-generated art should be protected by copyright laws.


For the Right:

CAA Rules go against equality, federalism and India’s Constitution

For the Left:

Annamalai In Tamil Nadu: The Tipping Point In Sight