Who owns this AI-generated image?

Reading Time: 2 minutes AI-generated art ownership is a hotly-contested issue. Do artists whose art has been used to teach AI algorithms deserve compensation?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Midjourney is an app that anyone can access through Discord. It allows you to create AI-generated art through simple prompts such as the above example “Chosen One.”

The “Chosen One” is an archetype in much of popular media, from Harry Potter to Anakin Skywalker to Frodo Baggins. We are all familiar with the trope, but love it or hate it, there is no escaping its influence. 

There are a thousand reiterations of the story, and it is impossible to track down a definitive source as to where it originated. Anybody can write a story using this archetype without facing backlash. Some argue that AI art falls under a similar standing, but is that the case? 

The first twenty-five pictures you generate using Midjourney are free, but from there, you must buy their subscription to continue creating more. And why wouldn’t you? There is something extremely satisfying about putting in a prompt and seeing something come out the other side, almost like you created it. 

But did you create it? You just typed in some words, and Midjourney churned out a response like Google. However, you don’t own the images you find on Google, but you do own what you generated on Midjourney. 

Midjourney works in much the same way as Google, but rather than develop a database of websites, it has developed a database of millions of artists’ work. It then uses that database to teach its algorithms.

That begs the question, who created the above example of the “Chosen One?” And, maybe more importantly, who owns it? If millions of different artists’ work went into generating this singular image, does one of them own it? Do all of them? Or does Midjourney?

David Holz, the founder of Midjourney, admitted in a Forbes interview that they developed their databases without the artists’ permission. He claimed, “There isn’t really a way to get a hundred million images and know where they’re coming from.”

Artists who have put hundreds if not thousands of hours into honing their craft feel cheated. Their art is being used without their permission to create in minutes what would have taken them hours. 

In December of 2022, artists staged a mass online protest on ArtStation, a popular website where artists can showcase their portfolios. The protest was in regard to how some users were posting AI art on ArtStation. The protestors argued that it undermined the effort that went into creating art without AI. ArtStation ended up asking users to be more transparent about when their art was AI-generated, but that was all. 

The argument that technological advancements take away people’s jobs is not new, but the issues surrounding AI art are unique. AI art only functions due to the vast databases of millions of stored images, images that were created by artists without their permission and without any compensation.

There is no clear answer to who owns the picture of “Chosen One.” It is a legal gray area. But it is a question on many people’s minds, and it will continue to be argued over for the foreseeable future. 

Interested in learning more about AI art? Check out The Review’s Arts & Culture podcast The Cultured Wolverine’s latest episode here.