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Who owns your robot? Not an actual robot, but the kind in the picture up there. The kind of image I created after typing a few prompts into Stability AI. 

The answer might surprise you, especially if you plan to use any sort of AI content in your own life. Because there’s a very good chance you can’t copyright your AI creations at all.

Here’s a simple example. Suppose you type some basic prompts into one of the popular image generators, like Midjourney or DALL-E2. You get some cool results and share them with your friends on social media. Your creation starts getting popular—so popular that you begin to dream of a profitable little business selling it on T-shirts or in a graphic novel. Maybe you’ve just created the next Calvin and Hobbes!

But don’t expect to protect your growing empire with a copyright. In February 2023, the U.S. Copyright Office refused to grant a licence to AI-generated images created for a graphic novel. The novel’s author did receive a copyright for the writing and arrangement of the story, but not for the accompanying images. 

Things stand much the same in Canada, as this article by the McGill Faculty of Law explains. And just to confuse things a little, the Beijing Internet Court in China has taken the opposite view. The court ruled in late November that an image generated with Stable Diffusion could be protected by copyright.

So, what does all this mean to you? Well, we all know someone that creates words or pictures or music. Maybe you’re in a band and decide to make a logo. Maybe your neighbour’s an accountant and needs some catchy text for their flyer. An image for your book cover, graphics for an Etsy shop—the possibilities are endless, and it seems like every app or program includes an AI option to make the job easier.

But until these questions around AI and copyright get settled, it’s best to approach with caution. Because if you do use AI to create the next big thing, you might not own that robot.