Who will own the art of the future?

When OpenAI announced last week that its art-making AI system DALL-E is now available in beta, the company also gave users the good fortune to get off the waiting list, which seemed to be a great gift. “Starting today,” the company wrote in a statement, “users will have full use rights to commercialize the images they create with DALL-E, including the right to reprint, sell and merchandize.” To be clear, this does not mean that OpenAI is renounce its own right to commercialize images that users create using DALL-E. Dive into the terms of service and all you’ll find is a promise that “OpenAI will not claim any copyright in any content generated by the API for you or your end users.”

By preemptively giving users commercial use rights, OpenAI sidesteps some of the tricky intellectual property questions posed by this technology – creating original images in a variety of styles, from photorealism to Picasso. Since some of DALL-E’s images are completely machined, with the user only inputting an idea via text prompts, the results are probably not copyrighted at all. That would put them in the public domain, where everyone and no one “owns” them.

Images created with the inpainting feature (which allows users to edit images they upload by, for example, instructing the AI ​​to insert a smiling corgi into a Renaissance tableau of their choice) may contain more expressive user choices. Some images created using the inpainting feature may contain enough clear human authorship to qualify for copyright protection, but others may not. While exciting, the announcement of OpenAI’s commercial use may alleviate some of the pressure artists should put on the law to clarify and expand the boundaries of copyrighted human-machine collaboration. As such collaborations become more common, the new concerns they raise need to be addressed immediately.

Aside from the issue of copyrights, OpenAI is signaling users that they are free to commercialize their DALL-E images without fear of receiving a letter of termination from a company that, if it so wishes, can hire a team of lawyers. might hire to destroy them over “a portrait photo of a parrot drinking a fruity drink through a straw in Margaritaville.” But the platform gives and the platform takes. The Terms of Service also notify users that OpenAI “may change these Terms or suspend or terminate your use of the Services at any time.”

If DALL-E and similar technologies are applied on a large scale, the implications for artistic production itself could be far-reaching. Artists who come to rely on DALL-E will be left with nothing if OpenAI decides to reclaim its rights. While relatively few artists are incorporating AI into their practice today, it’s easy to imagine future generations associating creativity with giving a simple command to a machine and rejoicing at the surprising results. Public school systems are already replacing textbooks with digital content – ​​programs that have retained something akin to arts education might be tempted to skip the mess and expense of watercolor lessons and switch to AI image generators once they become more widely accessible and affordable. become.

There are other reasons to be alarmed by the prospect of technology companies like OpenAI controlling key resources for artistic production in the future. Rightly wary of the technology used to create deepfakes and other “harmful generations,” OpenAI bans “political” content, along with content that is “shocking,” “sexual,” or “hateful,” just to name a few. to name. broad categories of prohibited images. While great artists have always found ways to use restrictions to their advantage, much of our most sharp and essential visual art would be unimaginable under OpenAI’s content restrictions. The pop grotesque presidential portraits of Peter Saul can be considered too political. Philip Guston’s involvement with Ku Klux Klan images could be considered too hateful, David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS-era outrage too shocking, and Kara Walker’s violent antebellum silhouettes too sexual. DALL-E’s limited visual vocabulary is intentionally benign and therefore rather impoverished. In its current form, DALL-E is an impressive toy, ultimately not a medium for significant cultural expression.

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