Several artists, frustrated with Artificially Intelligent (AI) image generators skirting copyright laws, are using similar image generators to produce images of Mickey Mouse and other copyrighted characters to challenge the current legal status of AI art. While an artist’s copyright in a work typically vests at the moment of fixation, including the right to prosecute copyright violation, AI-generated work complicates the issue by removing humans from the creative process. Courts have ruled that AI cannot hold copyright, which by corollary also means that AI-generated art sits in the public domain. This legal loophole has angered many professional artists whose art is used to train the AI. Many AI generators, such as Dall-E 2 and Midjourney, can render pieces in the style of a human artist, effectively automating the artist’s job.
Given Disney’s reputation for vigorously defending its intellectual property, these artists hope that monetizing these public-domain AI Mickeys on mugs and T-shirts will prompt a lawsuit. Ironically, provoking and losing a case in this vein may set a favorable precedent for the independent artist community. As AI becomes more advanced, society will likely need to address how increasingly intelligent and powerful AI can complicate and undermine existing law.