The rise of AI image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion has sparked interest among many people to use AI art commercially. However, there are unresolved legal and ethical issues surrounding selling artwork created by AI that need to be considered. In this article, we’ll explore whether it’s currently possible to sell AI generated images and artwork legally and ethically.
The Legality of Selling AI Art
One of the biggest questions around monetizing AI art is the issue of copyright. When an AI creates an image, who owns the copyright? Unlike art created by a human, AI art is not produced from creative thought and therefore may not qualify for copyright protection in some jurisdictions.
In the United States, the US Copyright Office has stated that only “human beings” can obtain copyright protection. Therefore, art produced solely by an AI system would not be eligible for copyright. However, if an AI artwork has received sufficient human input, selection and arrangement to be considered a product of “human authorship”, it may meet the threshold for copyright. But the level of human contribution required is still undefined.
For example, someone providing a text prompt like “a painting of a fox in the style of Starry Night” and running it through an image generator without other inputs, selection or editing likely would not meet the standard for copyright protection. But if a person significantly edited an AI generated image or carefully curated a set of training data and prompts to create a desired creative work, the final output may potentially qualify for copyright protection as a human-AI collaboration. But these areas remain legally untested.
Given the unsettled legal landscape, currently sellingstraight AI art in places like online marketplaces could pose some risks around copyright infringement claims. However, selling prints or merchandise that incorporates AI art in a transformative way could be less legally problematic. For example, printing an AI artwork on a t-shirt or mug with additional creative elements may qualify as fair use and satisfy copyright requirements.
Ethical Issues Around Selling AI Art
Aside from the copyright uncertainties, some people argue that selling AI generated art poses ethical problems regardless of its legal status. Critics view passing off pure AI art as original human-made artwork to customers as deceptive. And selling art produced by AI without any human creativity or effort is viewed by some as unethical, since human artists cannot compete with the speed, scale and cost efficiency of AI systems.
However, others argue there are ethical ways to sell AI art, especially art that involves substantive human input and creativity alongside AI tools. Much like other computer assisted art and digital art tools, AI can be viewed as an instrument helping expand human creativity. Responsibly disclosing when and how AI is used in art creation and fairly attributing any training data sources are important ethical considerations when selling AI art commercially.
Best Practices for Selling Ethical AI Art
For those who want to explore monetizing AI responsibly here are some emerging best practices:
- Disclose that AI was involved in the creation and give proper attribution to the AI system (e.g. Made with Midjourney”). Don’t misrepresent heavily AI generated art as fully human-created.
- Give appropriate attribution if training data sources inspired the art. Credit any copyrighted works used through transformative fair use.
- Focus on creating and selling art involving substantive human creativity and input alongside AI, rather than just selling pure AI art. This can help meet copyright standards.
- Consider selling prints, merchandise, or other products incorporating AI art in a transformative way rather than just selling unedited AI images. This provides added originality.
- Watermark AI art with the AI system’s name and your username or company name to show who created it.
- Develop unique AI art styles and models with carefully curated training data to give authentic value beyond generic AI art.
- Support and credit artists who contribute training data if generating commercial AI art models. Find ways to share value.
The Future of AI Art Commercialization
Selling AI generated art remains controversial and legally questionable today. However, creative collaboration between humans and AI in the arts is inevitable and offers great potential. As best practices develop and laws catch up, a healthy art ecosystem balancing human creativity with AI efficiency should emerge. Responsible disclosure, fair attribution, and transparent AI art branding will be key to earning customer trust and upholding artistic integrity.
Is AI art copyrightable?
The copyright status of AI art is unclear. Purely AI generated art likely does not meet copyright standards in the US and some other countries. But art involving substantial creative human contribution alongside AI tools may potentially qualify for copyright protection.
Is it legal to sell AI art?
The legality depends on copyright laws. Selling unedited images produced solely by AI currently involves some legal risk. But selling AI art prints, merch, etc. with transformative work or human input may be less problematic. The laws are uncertain and still evolving around AI art.
Is it ethical to sell AI generated art?
Some argue that selling pure AI art as human-made is deceptive. But with proper disclosures and fair attribution to the AI and any training sources, commercializing AI art collaborations can be ethical. Disclosing AI use and focusing on unique human+AI art may ease ethical concerns.
How can I ethically sell my AI art?
Best practices include transparently disclosing the AI system used, giving attribution, highlighting any human input/creativity, watermarking images with AI source, and creating unique styles versus mimicking existing art.
What products can I make with AI art legally?
Using AI art prints, t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise in a transformative way provides more legal cover and originality. Straight reprints of unedited AI art have higher legal risks currently. Unique AI art styles also help.