As AI-generated art takes off, who really owns it?

How AI-Generated Art Takes Off, Who Really Owns It?

The rise of art created using artificial intelligence tools raises questions about copyright, ownership and human creativity itself

A series of contorted clown faces in a collision of basic colors appears at first glance to be a work of painting – with greasy brush strokes and a blurred background are typical features.

Yet the images displayed by Scottish artist Perry Jonsson on his tablet were actually created using artificial intelligence (AI) – reflecting a growing trend in the art world.

It used a machine learning program where algorithms take a text prompt and analyze the data to generate thousands of images before selecting and editing their favourites.

“They’re a bit creepy,” the 31-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation one August morning in an Edinburgh cafe, not far from the hustle and bustle of the world’s biggest arts festival.

“But what I loved was the humanity that shone through, and that’s what I was looking for, something that a real artist could paint,” he said, adding that AI allows him to stretch creatively despite his lack of drawing skills .

Filmmaker Jonsson began dabbling in AI-generated artwork this year and is one of a growing number of people in the creative sector experimenting with the software, sparking debate about the future of art and the role of man versus machine.

What began in the 1970s as artists toying with the possibilities of computer programming has become a booming business, with works created by artificial intelligence winning digital art competitions and fetching huge sums at auction in recent years.

The most famous example, “Edmond de Belamy,” a portrait depicting a blurred image of a man in a black shirt and white collar, sold at auction in 2018 for $432,000 — despite having a pre-sale estimate of $7,000-$10,000.

However, advances in AI have fueled concerns about the ethical and legal implications of co-creating art with machines.

“It’s pretty much the wild west,” Jonsson said, adding that he tried to “stay on top” of using copyrighted works. Still, he said it’s difficult to know whether the data used by AI programs to create his artwork is copyright-free.

Some AI art generation tools stretch images and mimic styles using copyrighted works to create new artwork, raising concerns about digital theft among artists.

Copyright laws in the United States and the European Union, for example, do not specifically cover AI-generated art, so some artists will question whether AI helps or hinders creativity.

The growing use of artificial intelligence to produce magazine covers, posters or, for example, creating logos also raises the burning question of whether artificial intelligence can – or will – eventually replace artists.

Award-winning 3D artist and filmmaker David OReilly, who writes about the issue, warned that “everyone who contributes to artificial intelligence is accelerating their own automation.”

The human touch

A 2020 study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that AI will destroy 85 million jobs by 2025, but also that the technology will create 97 million new ones in various industries.

From mechanical waiters and humanoid medical robots to digitally resurrecting dead celebrities, the growing use of artificial intelligence has raised complex questions of ethics, copyright and privacy.

Art is the latest industry to test the limits of the law.

Stephen Thaler, founder and CEO of technology company Imagination Engines Inc. based in Missouri, had a copyright application for the computer-generated artwork rejected by the U.S. Copyright Board in February.

The board said his work, which depicts an empty railroad track passing through a wall of purple flowers, “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.”

Bernt Hugenholtz, a professor of copyright law at the University of Amsterdam, said future litigation would depend on whether a person makes a creative decision, a “very abstract test”.

If someone simply presses a button or two to create art, or gives a generic text prompt like “create a picture of a monkey in a silly hat”, that is not a creative act and that person cannot be an author under EU copyright. , he said.

However, if someone uses a very specific challenge, generates many images, selects from them and makes further adjustments, then that could justify authorship, Hugenholtz added.

Mimic robots

Hugenholtz said he also sees the potential for legal clashes when it comes to infringement of art styles and derivative works.

In order for a work to be considered copyrighted, the new creation must be sufficiently original.

Popular image generation programs such as San Francisco-based OpenAI DALL-E have faced recent criticism on this front.

Such tools are trained using machine learning on huge datasets, feeding the system millions of images already created by human artists to refine its outputs.

Some artists question whether AI firms are honest or even aware that copyrighted images are being used for this purpose.

When OpenAI allowed DALL-E users to use its generative art for commercial purposes and switched to a paid subscription service in July, artist OReilly criticized the move.

In a post on Instagram, he called it a “scam” and said that OpenAI benefits from “tremendous amounts of human creativity.”

OpenAI said that the hundreds of millions of images in the DALL-E training data were either licensed by the company or came from publicly available sources.

The company further argues that the images it creates should be copyrighted, and a spokesperson said it creates “unique, original images that have never existed before.”

But OReilly said tech companies are taking advantage of the legal uncertainty surrounding copyright.

For artists to profit from their work, the data used to improve algorithms should be publicly audited, and artists should choose whether or not to contribute their art, he added.

Help or expel?

Artist Jason Allen caused controversy last week by winning the top prize at the Colorado State Fair in the United States with his AI-generated artwork Théâtre D’opéra Spatial, which depicts the silhouette of three people with a gilded window.

Several artists have taken to social media to express anger at the price, with some fearing for their livelihoods.

Jonsson said he believes certain artistic roles — such as storyboarding when making videos — will become automated.

“It’s only a matter of time,” he added.

However, fellow Edinburgh artist Alex Harwood said he was not threatened by AI tools. While experimenting with them, the illustrator emphasized that they could not replicate his work – nor convey the emotions associated with the creative process.

“I think it’s a point in history where you have to decide whether you’re going to reject it (AI) and live on that side of the line, or accept it (as) the way it’s going to be from now on,” Harwood added.


I am Sanjit Gupta. I have completed my BMS then MMS both in marketing. I even did a diploma in computer software and Digital Marketing.

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