US Copyright Office Refuses to Issue Protections for AI-Generated Illustrations

US Copyright office AI
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US Copyright office AI
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Photo Credit: Keith Pitts

AI-created images lose US copyright protections in a legal test for the new technology.

The US Copyright Office says it should not have granted copyright protection to images in a graphic novel that were created using the AI system Midjourney. “Zarya of the Dawn” author Kris Kashtanova is entitled to copyright protection for the parts of the book they wrote and arranged but not for the images generated by Midjourney, the office said in its letter on Tuesday.

This decision is one of the first by a US court or agency on the issue of copyright protection for works created with AI amid the astronomic rise in generative AI software like Midjourney and ChatGPT.

The Copyright Office said it would reissue its registration for “Zarya of the Dawn,” omitting images that are “not the product of human authorship” and exempt from copyright.

Kashtanova said it is “great news” that the office allowed copyright protection for the novel’s story and arrangement, which “covers a lot of uses for the people in the AI art community.” Kashtanova is considering how best to move forward, arguing that the images themselves were “a direct expression of my creativity and therefore copyrightable.”

Midjourney general counsel Max Sills calls the decision “a great victory for Kris, Midjourney, and artists,” that the Copyright Office is “clearly saying that if an artist exerts creative control over an image-generating tool like Midjourney,” that the output is protectable.

Like similar AI-based systems, Midjourney generates images based on user-entered text prompts. Kashtanova wrote the text of “Zarya of the Dawn” and used Midjourney to create the book’s artwork based on prompts.

The office said it would grant copyright protection for the book’s text and how Kashtanova selected and arranged its components — but that Kashtanova was not the “mastermind” behind the images themselves.

“The fact that Midjourney’s specific output cannot be predicted by users makes Midjourney different for copyright purposes than other tools used by artists,” the office said in its letter.