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The big question: Does copyright law apply to cartoon version of copyrighted images? Transformative work can circumvent copyright law, but are you allowed to feed copyrighted images into an AI algorithm to create cartooned versions? Who owns the copyright at that point?

I don't see any reason why copyright would not apply. If you take someone else's photograph, change the white balance, and start selling copies of it, that's classic copyright infringement.

As for input data to models, my intuition is that they would be tainted by the copyright of the input images. It's just that nobody has a bot for scanning AI models for their photographs, so you don't see a lot of litigation or DMCA takedown requests here. It's easy when someone just uploads your photo to their website. It's hard when the photo contributes some weights to a neural network.

My main takeaway is that copyright is very imperfect. It doesn't allow for any unsolicited enhancements of someone else's work.

You'll get further issues once Getty Images automatically generates copyrighted images covering as much of the latent space of interesting images as possible.

In principle by the way copyright works this isn't really an issue: if an image is generated independently then copyright does not apply. However, in the event that you wind up with something similar, it becomes something which you would need to prove (and people have lost cases because they could not). On the other hand, such large-scale generation of images will likely be treated differently by the courts than other means of production.

Indeed, people often seem to assume that the output of GANs are free of the copyright of the training data, but this has not been tested in court and I get the impression the legal opinion leans towards that it does, which makes the copyright status of most GANs (and in fact most neural nets) a pretty huge mess.

It's hard to know what would have happened if Shepard Fairey hadn't gotten caught destroying documents, and we don't know the specifics of all of the settlement, but I think it's fair to say he lost that case.


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