Navigating Copyrights in Generative AI Art: How Could U.S. Copyright Laws Adapt to Accommodate Generative AI?

Category Machine Learning

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In 2022, an AI-generated work of art won the Colorado State Fair's art competition, sparking debate about ownership and authorship of AI-generated art. This paper is meant to stimulate conversations and debates on copyright law adapting to generative AI art, and how ownership frameworks can be created to empower creatives while staying true to the spirit of copyright law.

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In 2022, an AI-generated work of art won the Colorado State Fair's art competition. The artist, Jason Allen, had used Midjourney—a generative AI system trained on art scraped from the internet—to create the piece. The process was far from fully automated: Allen went through some 900 iterations over 80 hours to create and refine his submission. Yet his use of AI to win the art competition triggered a heated backlash online, with one Twitter user claiming, "We're watching the death of artistry unfold right before our eyes." .

Generative AI art tools can be trained with art scraped from the internet, which raises questions about ownership and authorship

As generative AI art tools like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have been thrust into the limelight, so too have questions about ownership and authorship.

These tools' generative ability is the result of training them with scores of prior artworks, from which the AI learns how to create artistic outputs. Should the artists whose art was scraped to train the models be compensated? Who owns the images that AI systems produce? Is the process of fine-tuning prompts for generative AI a form of authentic creative expression? .

Traditionally in the US, only humans are eligible to hold copyrights.

On one hand, technophiles rave over work like Allen's. But on the other, many working artists consider the use of their art to train AI to be exploitative.

We're part of a team of 14 experts across disciplines that just published a paper on generative AI in Science magazine. In it, we explore how advances in AI will affect creative work, aesthetics and the media. One of the key questions that emerged has to do with U.S. copyright laws, and whether they can adequately deal with the unique challenges of generative AI.

The emergence of photography in the 1800s brought many of the same debates about art and ownership, and the U.S. Supreme Court had to weigh in on the issue of authorship.

Copyright laws were created to promote the arts and creative thinking. But the rise of generative AI has complicated existing notions of authorship.

Photography serves as a helpful lens .

Generative AI might seem unprecedented, but history can act as a guide. Take the emergence of photography in the 1800s. Before its invention, artists could only try to portray the world through drawing, painting or sculpture. Suddenly, reality could be captured in a flash using a camera and chemicals.

AI systems lack self-awareness and intent to hold copyrights, which poses unique challenges in terms of ownership

As with generative AI, many argued that photography lacked artistic merit. In 1884, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue and found that cameras served as tools that an artist could use to give an idea visible form; the "masterminds" behind the cameras, the court ruled, should own the photographs they create.

From then on, photography evolved into its own art form and even sparked new abstract artistic movements.

Photography has been a key lens through which to view generative AI art and ownership debates

AI can't own outputs .

Unlike inanimate cameras, AI possesses capabilities—like the ability to convert basic instructions into impressive artistic works—that make it prone to anthropomorphization. Even the term "artificial intelligence" encourages people to think that these systems have humanlike intent or even self-awareness.

This led some people to wonder whether AI systems can be "owners." But the U.S. Copyright Office has stated unequivocally that only humans can hold copyrights.

Generative AI is prone to anthropomorphization, which can lead to confusion around claims of authorship

So who can claim ownership of images produced by AI? Is it the artists whose images were used to train the systems? The users who type in prompts to create images? Or the people who build the algorithms themselves? .

The answer requires us to reconsider copyright's role in a world powered by generative AI. We need to create ownership frameworks that empower creatives, while staying true to the spirit of copyright law—spurring artistic growth.

This paper is meant to stimulate conversations and debates on copyright law adapting to generative AI art. Ultimately, this issue's resolution will rely upon the cross-disciplinary collaboration of computer scientists, legal professionals, artists and other stakeholders.

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