Copyright And Ownership In AI Art – Legalities Behind AI Art


If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. As an Amazon affiliate partner, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Read our disclosure.

Key Takeaways

  • Pure AI art is not copyright protected, and no ownership can be claimed.
  • AI is considered a machine, and thus AI can’t claim ownership of the work as can’t a user who generated the work with the aid of AI.
  • AI art can be copyrighted with sufficient human authorship to support a copyright claim.
  • It’s legal to sell AI art, and no royalties need to be paid for using AI art.

Disclaimer: The following blog post is provided by Okuha for informational purposes only. The content of this blog post is not intended to constitute legal advice.

Is AI Art Copyrighted?

According to U.S. Copyright Office and Copyright Law, “Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression…” which means authorship plays a significant part in determining copyright protection.

Pure AI art is not automatically copyrighted. This differs from digital art, where the creator (human author) has created artwork using a digital medium. In the case of digital art, the machine does not create the artwork by itself, the artist controls what the machine does.

In the case of AI, the user does not control what the AI generates. While text prompts guide the output of the AI algorithm, AI makes the decisions on what to generate.

Ownership of AI art – Who owns the AI art?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the initial ownership is given to the work’s author. The phrase “initial ownership” means that when you create something, you are the first person to own the copyright. Nobody else has the right to use or copy it without your permission.

Ownership can’t be claimed in AI art as AI is not considered an author. This means that no one person owns the AI art that the AI art generator puts out.

AI Art And Authorship

A machine is not currently identified as an author. And author, in the context of copyright, is:

“the exclusive right of a man to the production of his own genius or intellect.”

“what matters is the extent to which the human had creative control over the work’s expression and “actually formed” the traditional elements of authorship.”

U.S. Copyright Registration Guidance

Throughout the copyright act, the word man, and human is used to describe the author. The author, in this case, can’t be a machine or an AI. Only humans are considered authors and can have authorship; animals have been excluded from being seen as authors.

Can AI Art Be Copyrighted?

According to the latest copyright registration guidance by the U.S. Copyright Office, AI art can be copyrighted when it contains sufficient human authorship to support a copyright claim.

If a work’s traditional elements of authorship were produced by a machine, the work lacks human authorship and the Office will not register it.

U.S. Copright Office: Copyright Registration Guidance

So it comes down to how much human authorship an AI artwork has. It’s unclear what is considered sufficient and how exactly the U.S. Copyright Office decides to give copyright to an AI artwork.

The extent of human authorship is at the center of the decision as to whether the human artist’s work is considered sufficient for the copyright claim.

Currently, the government office thinks that the people using these technologies don’t have complete control over what the machines create. So, they won’t consider those creations as something that can be protected by copyright.

This thought is in line with how AI art generators work. AI algorithm creates a random image even when the user doesn’t change the text prompt. This can also be seen when the batch size is increased from 1 to anything, like 100. The AI art generator generates 100 images that are all completely different, unique, and at the same time, random.

Is It Legal to Sell AI Art?

It’s legal to sell AI art. This is possible because pure AI art does not have automatic copyright protection, and you can’t claim ownership of an AI artwork.

There are currently no restrictions as to whether you can or can’t sell AI artwork.

Is AI Art Royalty-Free?

AI art is royalty-free if seen and stated as pure AI art without sufficient human authorship. Royalties don’t need to be paid, and credits don’t need to be given, as no one person owns pure AI art.

Copyright And Stable Diffusion

Example artwork created with AI art model (GhostMix) created for use with Stable Diffusion.

One of the most used AI art models is the one has published, namely Stable Diffusion v1.5, v2.0, and v2.1. Stable Diffusion uses datasets from LAION. However, has to reconstruct the image data by downloading the subset they are interested in.

The problem lies in the understanding of the diffusion models, datasets, how AI art models are trained, and how AI art is made. For an AI art generator to generate images, it needs input (text prompt) and an algorithm that is trained with image-text pairs.

While have received a copyright lawsuit, the way the AI works with the training data and how the data is compiled is complicated, to say the least. The ethicality might become questionable (in favor of AI) when it’s understood how AI art generators, diffusion models, and the technology behind them actually work.

Feature image credits.



Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

More Posts

Thank You!

Thank you for visiting the page! If you want to build your next creative product business, I suggest you check out Kittl!