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5.4: Case Study- Zarya of the Dawn

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    In February 2023, the US Copyright Office revoked copyright protection for images created using the AI-powered Midjourney image generator for the comic book “Zarya of the Dawn” and issued a new copyright registration covering only the text of the work and the arrangement of images and text. The justification for this decision was incomplete information in the original copyright registration, which failed to disclose that the images were created by an AI model. The Copyright Office argued that the images in the work generated by Midjourney were not the product of human authorship and thus not copyrightable. Despite Kashtanova’s claim that she had “guided” the structure and content of each image, the Copyright Office argued that Midjourney, not Kashtanova, originated the “traditional elements of authorship” in the images.

    Kashtanova’s attorney argued that every aspect of the work was authored by Kashtanova, with Midjourney serving merely as an assistive tool. However, this argument was rejected by the Copyright Office, which provided additional analogies to explain why Kashtanova was not the creator of the images, including the idea of hiring a human to create images using descriptions and performing a text-based image search on the internet.

    Kashtanova reacted to the letter by framing it as an overall win for AI-augmented artists. The ruling protects the comic book’s story and the image arrangement, which “covers a lot of uses for the people in the AI art community.” However, she expressed disappointment that the Copyright Office did not agree to recognise her copyright of the individual images.

    Kashtanova believes the output of a Generative AI model depends directly on the creative input of the artist and is not random: individual images produced by Midjourney are a direct expression of her creativity and thus copyrightable.

    The decision means that AI-generated imagery, without human-authored elements, cannot currently be copyrighted in the United States. The Copyright Office’s ruling on the matter will likely hold unless it’s challenged in court, revised by law, or re-examined in the future. The decision may eventually be reconsidered as the result of a cultural shift in how society perceives AI-generated art, allowing for a new interpretation by different members of the US Copyright Office in the future. AI-powered artwork is still a novel and poorly understood technology, but it is rapidly becoming a feature of digital art.

    Cover of Zarya of the Dawn. Image via

    5.4: Case Study- Zarya of the Dawn is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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