AI-Generated Images Cannot Be Copyrighted, Says the US Copyright Office

The US Copyright Office (USCO) has published a new guidance addressing one of the most pressing issues regarding novel AI-generated images: whether they can be copyrighted. 

According to this new policy, the answer is that AI-generated images (and AI-generated content in general) cannot be copyrighted, mainly because it’s not produced by a human.

However, there is a door open to copyright visuals in which production AI tools were involved, but a human was in charge of the creative process. 

What does this all mean? Let’s break it down. 

The definition of copyright that governs the USCO’s policies (and the copyright policies in most parts of the world) considers that it applies to the protection of intellectual property and authorship rights over original, creative works produced by a human. 

In its new guidance, the USCO has reaffirmed they’re still going by this definition. In consequence, AI-generated images cannot be copyrighted because they are not, in fact, produced by a human but by a machine. 

Note: It is now more important than ever to be able to tell AI-generated pictures from traditional ones, and you can do so with these 4 simple methods to identify AI-generated media!

Text Prompts Do Not Constitute Human Control of the AI Tool

After analyzing how most of the AI-generative tools available today operate, the entity concluded that text prompts (the written instructions users input into the applications) are not enough of a creative direction to grant copyright to the user. 

The organism likens text prompts to the directives given to a commissioned photographer or graphic artist: the client gives a general idea of what they want to be produced, but it’s the machine (or the artist) who creates the image.

This further cements their notion that AI images are authored by the machine, not the human user. And thus, are not copyrightable. 

Images Edited with AI Tools Are Potentially Copyrightable

The bright side of this new policy is that the USCO isn’t ruling all AI-made visuals as non-copyrightable. 

They say that if there is proof of enough human control of the creative process, an image can be copyrighted even if AI tools were used as part of said process. 

It’s important to consider that, given the lack of defined standards as to what “enough human influence” means –at least for now– the Office would evaluate these in a case-by-case manner. 

However, it’s a relevant decision as it means that you could still use AI tools to automate the editing of your images or even use an AI image generator to create a base image and later edit it with traditional manual tools to make it your own, and it would be subject to copyright. 

This is particularly important regarding the future of stock photography, selling AI-generated images as stock, and using AI-generated pictures for commercial purposes. 

For more information, you can check our more detailed article on!

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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