AI Images & Copyright: Where Do You Stand?

Jessica Kent
whiteboard with the words "a ?" and a question mark written in black marker
whiteboard with the words "a ?" and a question mark written in black marker

AI has taken the digital world by storm, streamlining processes and changing the way we work in ways we never could have imagined. Services like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini are immensely capable; feed them the right prompt and they can help with everything from planning your next holiday to brainstorming your next blog idea.


The rise of AI-created images

Although AI is most commonly used to generate text responses, it can also turn its hand to image creation. Increasingly, we’re seeing AI-generated images dominate our social media feeds, often depicting absurd or amusing scenes in impressive detail. There are even accounts out there dedicated solely to posting AI artwork, from entertaining memes and storyboards to picturesque, out-of-this-world landscapes.

It’s safe to say that we’ve well and truly bought into the concept of AI art. It’s hard to spend more than 10 minutes browsing through your Instagram or TikTok feed and not see something AI-generated. But when you consider just how versatile and capable these AI tools are, that’s not surprising: provided you give them a detailed and descriptive prompt or a suitable reference image, chatbots can come up with images in seconds that would take a human hours to create.

AI art isn’t without its drawbacks, however. For a start, it’s limited by the prompts and reference images you share with it. It doesn’t have a vivid imagination like a human does, so it can’t create artwork that’s truly original. Every piece of work it generates is derived from something a human has already created.


AI art and copyright law

This leads us nicely to the main point of this article: copyright. Because AI images are based solely on the work of humans, where do you stand when it comes to copyright law? If you use an AI-generated image that bears a striking resemblance to something a famous designer or artist has previously put their name to, could that land you in hot water?

In a word, yes. At the time of writing, Getty Images is currently suing Stability AI, the creator of the image generation platform Stable Diffusion. It’s alleged that the platform ‘scraped’ millions of original photographs from the Getty site without the company’s consent – and that many of the images the platform puts out infringe Getty’s intellectual property rights as a result.

Although the case hasn’t yet gone to trial, it will do. Stability AI tried to argue against Getty’s claims and get the case thrown out but failed. This doesn’t mean Getty will win, of course – other cases in the US have shown that the law isn’t necessarily on the side of the artists – but it’s certainly cause for concern. If you unknowingly use an AI image that’s particularly similar to the original work it was based on, there’s a remote possibility that you could find yourself in court.


So, where do I stand?

If you’re intending to use AI-generated images for a commercial purpose, you’ll have to tread carefully. It doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all, you’ll just have to think carefully about how and where you use it.

You could use it internally, for example. Or, you could have a graphic designer come up with an original icon, logo or piece of artwork and get AI to generate alternate versions of it, allowing you to speed up the design process without the risk of copyright infringement. If you’re basing your AI artwork on something you’ve created yourself, you’re safe.

AI is also a fantastic tool to use when you’re conceptualising a piece of artwork, be it a new logo design or a header image for your website. Feed the AI some source images you like the look of and a suitable prompt, and it can create a visual representation of what’s in your head. This can then serve as a brief for your graphic designer, who can take the existing ideas used in the AI piece and add their own touch of creative flair to design something that’s truly original.

So, AI images do work in a commercial setting, absolutely. But should you fire your graphic designer and rely solely on chatbots? We think not. As always, there’s a compromise to be found here; AI tools can help you streamline design processes and get your ideas down on paper more efficiently, but they’re no substitute for the creative powerhouse that is the human brain.


Speak to us today

Whether you’re planning a ground-up rebrand or want to give your website a facelift, the experienced team at Brave Agency is here to help. Since 2000, we’ve been delivering innovative design work for clients in a whole host of different industries, helping put businesses on the map. To find out more about how we could help you, get in touch with us today.

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