Is AI Generated Art illegal? Examining the Copyright Debate

In the United States, AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted, as ruled by a Washington, D.C. court1. Copyrights are exclusive to works created by human authors. This decision upholds the Copyright Office’s rejection of a copyright application for art generated by the DABUS AI system. This highlights the evolving copyright challenges in the field of generative AI.


AI generated art has been a topic of fascination and debate in recent years. With advancements in artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms, machines are now capable of creating stunning works of art that challenge our understanding of creativity.

However, a significant legal question looms over this new art form: Is AI-generated art illegal in terms of copyright and intellectual property rights?

In this blog post, I will delve into the legal landscape surrounding AI-generated art, discussing key court rulings, challenges, and the implications for artists and the art world.

Understanding AI-Generated Art

AI-generated art involves the use of algorithms and machine learning to create visual or literary works without direct human intervention.

These creations can be astonishingly intricate and have gained recognition in the art community. They have even been featured in art exhibitions and auctions.

The U.S. Copyright Ruling

One of the most pivotal legal developments in the AI art sphere occurred in the United States. A U.S. court in Washington, D.C. has ruled that AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted under U.S. law.

The court affirmed that only works produced by human authors are eligible for copyright protection. This landmark decision was based on centuries of legal precedent.

Key Takeaways from the U.S. Copyright Ruling

  • AI-generated art does not qualify for copyright protection.
  • Copyright law in the U.S. is based on the requirement of human authorship.

Copyright Office’s Rejection

The U.S. Copyright Office has consistently rejected copyright applications for AI-generated art, emphasizing the need for human creative input. For example, computer scientist Stephen Thaler’s application for a copyright covering “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” an AI-generated art piece, was denied on these grounds.

Case Study: Stephen Thaler’s DABUS System

Thaler’s DABUS system, short for Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, attempted to secure copyright protection for AI-generated art.

However, the Copyright Office and the court’s decisions signaled a firm stance against this practice.

Global Perspectives on AI Art

The legality of AI-generated art is not exclusive to the United States. Artists and AI developers worldwide are grappling with similar questions.

Stephen Thaler, for instance, sought AI-generated patents for DABUS in multiple countries, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, with limited success.

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Intellectual Property Challenges

The rise of generative AI has given birth to complex intellectual property challenges. Artists and AI developers face the following hurdles:

  1. Copyright Rejections: As evident from the U.S. case, obtaining copyright protection for AI-generated art can be incredibly challenging, if not impossible.
  2. Ethical Considerations: Questions about the ethics of AI art creation persist. Is it right for AI systems to produce art without human input?
  3. Training Data Issues: Several lawsuits have been filed over the use of copyrighted works to train generative AI without permission. This raises concerns about the legality of using copyrighted material to generate new art.
  4. Legislation Lag: The legal framework is still catching up with AI advancements. New laws and regulations are needed to address the unique challenges posed by AI-generated art.

Quotes and Expert Opinions

To shed light on the AI art landscape, let’s consider these expert opinions:

  1. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell: “Human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright.”
  2. Ryan Abbott, Thaler’s attorney: “We strongly disagree with the decision and will appeal.”
  3. Copyright Office: “The court reached the correct result.”


The legality of AI generated art remains a complex and evolving issue. While the U.S. court ruling provides a clear stance on copyright, many questions persist about the ethical and practical aspects of AI art. Artists, developers, and legal experts are working together to navigate this uncharted territory, and it’s clear that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the legal implications surrounding AI-generated art. As the field continues to grow and evolve, new legislation and precedents will likely emerge, shaping the future of AI art.

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Last modified: October 21, 2023

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