US Copyright Office Rejects AI Image That Blends Real Photo and Van Gogh

USCO rejects copyright
Ankit Sahni’s original photograph (left), Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (center), and the final AI-enhanced image (right).

The U.S. Copyright Office has rejected an artist’s bid to register an artificial intelligence (AI) generated artwork based on his original photograph and Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

On Monday, the U.S. Copyright Office again denied artist Ankit Sahni’s attempt to register his Van Gogh-inspired artwork generated by AI, saying there is not enough human involvement for the artist to claim copyright” despite his original photograph.

copyright office refuses copyright ai image based on original photo
The AI-generated artwork based on Ankit Sahni’s original photograph and Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Sahni submitted an application to register the work in December 2021 and listed himself as the author of “photograph, 2-D artwork” and the “RAGHAV AI Painting App” as the author of “2-D artwork.”

He explained the process involved the use of his original photograph of a sunset along with an image of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night for the “style” to be copied by the AI tool. Sahni told the U.S. Copyright Office that he generated the work by using the AI app RAGHAV, which “generat[es] an image with the same ‘content’ as a base image.”

‘Executed Not by a Man But By a Machine’

According to a report by The Fashion Law, the U.S. Copyright Office primarily refused to register the work on the basis that it “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” The Office stated that despite Sahni’s claim that the work includes some human creative input, the work is not registrable, as “this human authorship cannot be distinguished or separated from the final work produced by the computer program.”

It also found that “the new aspects of the work were generated by “the RAGHAV app, and not Mr. Sahni — or any other human author” making it so that the “derivative authorship was not the result of human creativity or authorship” and therefore, not registrable.

copyright office refuses copyright ai image based on original photo
Ankit Sahni’s original photograph (left) and Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (right).

The Fashion Law reports that in a second request for reconsideration, Sahni argued that RAGHAV is merely an “assistive software tool subject to his creative decisions [and] his original photo.”

He stated that he “provided the traditional elements of authorship” for both his original photo and his AI-generated work as he shot the original image and he directed the RAGHAV tool “to make changes to the colors, shapes, and style in a particular manner” thereby giving himself control of copyright.

However, in a letter on December 11, the U.S. Copyright Office held that the artwork “does not contain sufficient human authorship necessary to sustain a claim to copyright.”

Citing its March 2023 guidance on AI-generated works, the U.S. Copyright Office asserted that “in considering an application for registration, [it] will ask: Whether the ‘work’ is basically one of human authorship, with the computer [or other device] merely being an assisting instrument, or whether the traditional elements of authorship in the work (literary, artistic, or musical expression or elements of selection, arrangement, etc.) were actually conceived and executed not by man but by a machine.”

The case marks the latest example in which the U.S. Copyright Office has refused to register a work that was created with the help of an AI image generator.

Image credits: All photos via U.S. Copyright Office.