Published in AI

AI artwork not protected by copyright

by on24 February 2023

Plots and stories are, but artwork is not

The US Copyright Office has ruled that illustrations in a new comic book that were created with the AI program Midjourney are not protected by copyright law.

According to a letter issued by the Copyright Office the comic book, Zarya of the Dawn, was written by Kristina Kashtanova, and the Copyright Office notes the text of the publication is still covered by copyright. But the drawings, which were all created by Midjourney, don’t get any of the same intellectual property protections.

Kashtanova originally applied for copyright protection in September 2022, but didn’t disclose that the illustrations were made by an AI image generator.

“We conclude that Ms. Kashtanova is the author of the Work’s text as well as the selection, coordination, and arrangement of the Work’s written and visual elements. That authorship is protected by copyright. However, as discussed below, the images in the Work that were generated by the Midjourney technology are not the product of human authorship,” the letter reads.

“Because the current registration for the Work does not disclaim its Midjourney-generated content, we intend to cancel the original certificate issued to Ms. Kashtanova and issue a new one covering only the expressive material that she created,” the Copyright Office said.

The letter goes on to explain that only images created by humans can obtain copyright protection, citing cases in which animals have taken photos, which are not covered by copyright law in the US.

The letter also notes that Kashtanova tried to argue her textual prompts into Midjourney were a type of creation or authorship, which the Copyright Office rejected.

“A person who provides text prompts to Midjourney does not ‘actually form’ the generated images and is not the ‘master mind’ behind them. The information in the prompt may ‘influence’ generated image, but prompt text does not dictate a specific result,” the Copyright Office said.

AI image creation tools like Midjourney work by training on millions of images available on the web, creating images that are close to things that already exist somewhere in some form. But there are a number of new intellectual property issues that arise when these tools, which are relatively new, are unleashed on the world.

For example, there’s currently an Instagram account called AI Muppet Generator that publishes AI-created images that look like they could’ve been produced by Jim Henson’s studio. But they weren’t. They’re “new” muppets that were created with Midjourney and don’t have any relationship to Disney, which bought the Muppets brand in 2004.


Last modified on 24 February 2023
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