Are AI-Generated Images Copyrighted? Can It be Minted as NFT?

Following DALL.E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion’s popularity among people worldwide, concerns about copyright and the sale of images created by these AI-generators are common. In this article, you will get to know the copyright issues and the sale of AI-generated images and the possibility of AI-generated images as NFT.

Are AI-Generated Images Stolen from Artists? How Does the AI-Art Generator work?

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing the copyright of AI-generated images is that the work of artists was used to train the AI.

All text-to-image AI models are based on the deep learning concept. Like machine learning, deep learning also requires human intervention in the form of datasets. The amount of data the researchers feed into these text-to-image AI art generators is directly proportional to the quality of their output.

Hence, during the training phase, every text-to-image art generator uses mountains of datasets. While OpenAI and Midjourney Lab did not reveal the datasets that they used to train DALL.E 2, Stability AI, the company behind Stable Diffusion (SD), has revealed the full dataset named LAION-5B used on SD.

The real concern revolves around these datasets as they contain the artworks of artists of all time. For example, Erin Hanson, who is known for her painting style called “Open Impressionism,” found that 3,854 of her images were used to train Stable Diffusion. 

AI images stolen from artists?
A modern dream tower in the style of Erin Hanson, highly detailed, intricate details, trending on artstation

Most of the artists are very upset and angry at the organizations behind the AI text-to-image generators. They claim that there was no intimation, permission, or royalty given to them and the organizations are violating their copyrights. 

However, according to lawyers and a law professor at the University of Washington Mr. Zahr Said, there is no such violation of copyrights in training AI. He further added that seeking copyright for every single image in the training dataset is impossible.

Also, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, works by non-humans are not eligible to be copyrighted. If the AI-generated artwork is not copyrighted, it belongs to the public domain. 

The dependency…

My view is that AI is doing the exact same process as artists. Every artist or an ordinary person takes inspiration from his/ her favorite artists, the places he/ she visited, the film he/ she saw, or a photograph of something. Everyone is depending on each other without realizing it.

Emad Mostaque, the CEO and the founder of Stability AI, stated that art constitutes only 0.1% of the LAION dataset that was used to train the Stable Diffusion.

But this is hard to digest for most of the artists as their months of hard work are now available in a few keystrokes and a single click!

If you are an artist, you can use tools, such as Clip retrieval and Have I Been Trained? to find out if your artwork was used in the training dataset of LAION-5B. Otherwise, you can simply check the list of artists supported by Stable Diffusion.

Does Anyone Copyright their AI-artwork?

Yes, the U.S. Copyright Office granted copyright to the artwork named “Zarya of the Dawn” by Kris Kashtanova. This is the first known copyright given to an AI image in the United States.

Copyright of AI-assisted imageclick to see on Instagram

On her Instagram feed, Kashtanova stated that the image was AI-assisted rather than AI-generated. She mentioned that she has put in numerous work hours apart from AI image generation.

To sum it up, you can only get the copyright for AI images if you have put in additional work apart from the AI image generation. Otherwise, you cannot get a copyright and your artwork belongs to the public domain or the organization that claims ownership (For example, OpenAI).

Now, you must have got clarity over the images used in the training dataset and the copyright of it. Let’s move on to the policies of the organizations behind these text-to-image AI generators.

OpenAI’s Policy About Commercial Use

On July 20, 2022, OpenAI announced that users have full rights to commercialize the DALL.E 2 images they create. The rights include the reprint, sale, and merchandise of images generated by DALL.E 2.

Users have already started using AI images as stock photos, illustrations in children’s books, and movie storyboards. Remember to follow OpenAI’s content policy while commercializing the images.

Though OpenAI gave the rights to commercialize the AI-generated images, it retains the ownership of those images to enforce its content policy. This triggers concern and hesitancy among several creative professionals.

Midjourney’s Policy About Commercial Use

Midjourney Lab documented that all of its paid members own the images that they create using Midjourney services.

But, this is not applicable if:

Since Midjourney is an open community, the images you create on the public channel can be viewed, used, and remixed by other users. This is legal and you agreed to it when you started using Midjourney. However, you can bypass this by opting for the Private plan.

Stability AI’s Policy About Commercial Use

Stability AI has released Stable Diffusion under an extremely permissive license that allows both commercial and non-commercial usage.

Make sure to use it in an ethical way according to the license.

Can I Sell AI-generated Images as NFT?

According to the current laws of countries and policies of AI companies, you can mint and sell AI-generated images as NFTs.

However, the laws may be subject to change or the AI companies may change their policies to seek royalties.

Meanwhile, the digital artist Fabio Comparelli has minted his AI-assisted work as NFT on OpenSea. Being a landscape photographer, he fell in love with Midjourney recently and started exploring the possibilities almost every day.


  • Technically, the images used to train AI text-to-models are not stolen from artists as they resemble the creation process of human beings. 
  • Unless the organization claims ownership, the creator/ prompter of a particular AI-generated image holds ownership. While OpenAI owns the ownership of images, Midjourney Lab and Stability AI gave ownership to creators/ prompters.
  • Copyrights are possible for AI-assisted images. I.e. AI-generated images with a human touch.
  • Though all the organizations behind the famous text-to-image models gave commercial licenses to their users, these policies are not definitive and subject to change. Also, users must follow their terms of use and content policy while commercializing their AI-generated image.
  • According to current laws and policies of organizations, such as OpenAI, Midjourney, and Stability AI, users can mint AI-assisted artwork as NFTs.

Bonus Tip: While creating brand images such as Mario, shoes with Nike logos, etc. using a text-to-image generator, be careful as you might get copyright infringement from those brands if they raise a dispute.

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