Who owns the intellectual property rights to images generated by multimodal Machine Learning models? The jury is still out.
OpenAI’s DALL-E is a recent development in creative AI in which image identification and text interpretation algorithms have been merged to create multimodal Machine Learning models. The end result is new image outputsbased on text inputs.DALL-E is an AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. However wild and fantastic the instruction might be, DALL-E will produce the image. It can also generate images in specific painting style of great masters if so instructed. It also provides several options for each output.
In July this year, OpenAI threw open the beta access to DALL-E with extended usability features. Anyone with a paid subscription can now have complete usage rights to the images they generate on DALL-E. And this includes the rights to reprint, sell and merchandise the images created.
DALL-E is the first neural network to generate realistic images from natural language prompts – and by interpreting the instructions just like human intelligence does. It can create original, realistic images and art from a text description. It can combine concepts, attributes, and styles. DALL-E can also make realistic edits to existing images from a natural language caption. It can add and remove elements while taking shadows, reflections, and textures into account.
This opens up intriguing questions. Somebody generates an image on the AI system by using whatever text commands they give; now who will own the intellectual property rights to that image? The person who has thought of the words used as text prompts for the AI? The license owner who has paid the subscription fees? Or the company that has created and trained the AI model? And what about the people who are already holding intellectual property rights to the base images being used by the model? Say, you ask the model to generate an image in the style of Picasso paintings – then shouldn’t the rights holder to the original Picasso work also get a share of any profits made by using that image?
Company asserts ownership – creating more confusion
This is a strange situation indeed – and there can be no straight answers. Yet, OpenAI asserted to media that the company retains ownership of the original image to enable better enforcement of their content policy. However, that is a disputed proposition, because experts point out that going by the same logic camera manufacturers can claim rights to photos taken by their products – which sounds outright nonsense! Some experts also opine that the company’s stand on owning the images but still allowing subscribed users to commercialize them – are vague and contradictory.
It would also be logically unfair to paid subscribers because the natural expectation is that if you buy or license a technology service, you should automatically own the output created through that technology. particularly if they paid for the right to use it in the exact same manner as the AI company promoted them to use it.
Litigations are inevitable
With all the confusion, creative professionals are wary that this lack of clarity around ownership of images generated by similar AI tools will deter them from using such tools for high-profile clients. Most fear that with far-reaching commercialisation prospects and tough competition, legal fallout around this issue is inevitable.
In practice, such big-stake issues eventually see litigations. It has happened in the past, he added, with advances as varied as Morse code, railroads, smartphones, and the internet. And such legal proceedings usually lead to case-specific answers.
In a technology context, a big example was the Google vs Oracle case in 2021 where the US Supreme Court held that Google’s use of Oracle’s code amounted to a fair use under United States copyright law. As a result, the Court did not consider the question as to whether the material copied was protected by copyright.
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