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Who should own the copyright of AI-generated art?

In November 2018, three French students used an open-source algorithm developed by 19-year-old Robbie Barrat to generate Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was sold in auction at Christie's for $432500.

This case sparked a heated debate about who owns the copyright of artworks created by Artificial Intelligence. The expert Jonathan Bailey summarized it well in this article: "it is a total legal clusterf*ck".

These are the stakeholders that could potentially claim intellectual property rights:

  • The creator of the algorithm. However, if the code is released with MIT license, it allows anyone to use it even for commercial purposes.
  • The artists whose works were used to train the AI. However, if the artists have died more than 70 years ago, their artworks automatically become public domain in Europe and in many other countries. That is why most AI artists only include paintings from centuries ago in their training datasets.
  • The machine itself. The US copyright law doesn't include the word "human" anywhere, which led to the case of an animal-rights organization taking the photographer of the selfie below to court for copyright infringement because it was the monkey who actually pressed the button. Since the laws don't differentiate humans and non-humans, can a machine own the copyright of the artworks it generates? The experts still need to figure that out.
  • The AI artists. They normally assume they own the copyright of the AI art they generate using third-party code and training datasets if none of the stakeholders above owns it.
  • No one at all. If no additional creative work is put into the art generation process, most experts argue that no one should take credit for that.
In summary, Intellectual Property is a complex domain and the laws are clearly not evolving at the speed of technology. "This road is literally being paved as we’re walking on it" - affirms entertainment lawyer Jeff Becker.