Copyrights for Architectural Imagery in the Age of AI
Architecture is a reference discipline. From ziggurats, machines for living, to contemporary biophilic skyscraper designs, it’s impossible to know if the ideas are genuinely new or if they’ve been conceptualized before. Artificial intelligence has started the conversation on intellectual property (IP) even more. As millions of people generate unique graphic works by typing in keywords, controversies have arisen, especially regarding the protection of creative works and the Copyright architects in their creations. Therefore, understanding the scope of what is protected helps determine whether licenses are enough, whether trademark the long road to registration is worth it; or maybe a graphic piece cannot be protected and belongs to the public domain.
Images can have several forms of rights protection. Copyright for images and creative work is common, but trademark protection may be required if the image is used to identify the source of a specific product or service. Images may also be licensed, including the Ai produced. On the other hand, the imagery can have non-protected and public domain aspects, such as architectural and technical representation, or standard elements, such as doors, materials or structures.
The following section serves as a guide for creators on their journey to copyright; however, cases differ, so it may be worth working with a lawyer or legal department for advice.
Copyright and Trademark
Copyright protects the rights of “authors” to their original creative works, including architectural and design drawings. The author of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce (print or copy) the creative content. Registration is optional but highly recommended. It offers legal advantages to the author, including the possibility of enforcing the Copyright against offenders in court. Whereas Copyright protects the original work, a trademark protects the elements that distinguish or identify one particular company from another. A trademark is a symbol, word, logo or color that identifies the source of a product or service.
Trademark Laws differ from country to country. For instance, Colombia allows architects “not to associate their name with a modified work, including plans and graphics”, while in Europe, the right to the integrity of a work includes its protection against any unauthorized material modification or infringement to the reputation of the author. Namely, although there are no restrictions for tourists to photograph the Auditorio de Tenerife in Spain by Santiago Calatravathe Auditorio image was saved as trademark. Since 2003, Tenerife, SAU charges commercial operators for the use of its outdoor space for film and photography and requires the final product to be approved by the media department before publication. A deposit is also requested to guarantee the proper use of the images.
In all cases of statutory license, protecting economic or moral rights requires the services of a lawyer, which involves paperwork and money. In the case of a reproduction of a work, a license gives a person or entity (“licensee”) permission to use a work of the copyright owner, usually in exchange for payment. Several organizations serve as third parties, for example, GNU General Public License, Creative Commons (CC)or help determine if a piece is in the public domain.
Third Party License
Creative Commons (CC) is an international network that offers attribution tools that draw on aggregated data from publicly available content repositories that anyone can use. An image (plans, illustrations, photos or renderings) can be adapted under six copyright licenses. For instance, CC BY-NC permits reusers to distribute, remix, adapt and expand the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes only; CC PER will permit use of the material in any medium or format, provided attribution is given to the creator. Nevertheless, CC is not a law firm, does not provide legal advice and does not replace a law firm.
DALL-E and mid-term, the two leading AI-powered image generators, use an artificial intelligence system trained on public datasets to produce their assets. These assets may be unintentionally similar to copyrighted material or trademarks; however, the two have different approaches in terms of intellectual property protection.
Midjourney grants a license under the “Asset License” Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 for unpaid members. This permits the images to be used as long as it does not make a profit and as long as credit (“attribution”) is given to Midjourney. For paid services, the image belongs to the creator, even if the piece is a remix of someone else’s work, which means someone else can also use your image as a basis for their experimentation. However, even if you have generated a graphic piece and have all the rights to use the images created by the service, Midjourney also retains its license to use your works, including sublicenses.
In DALL-E, users get full usage rights for all media they create on DALL-E 2, including reprint, sales and merchandise rights. However, it is unclear whether the images the platform uses to train its algorithms have been properly published and legally authorized for said use.
What is not protected?
You cannot copyright a graphic that contains the “idea” of a skyscraper. If that were the case, only one architect could design high-rise buildings, and certain words would be banned on Ai platforms for legal reasons. As such, unprotected elements of a copyrighted image can be: (1) scenes to do, eg. a claim for graphic infringement of a distinctive skyline or scene; (2) ideas versus expression, e.g. a diagram of the roof; (3) facts and other public information; and (4) expressions that are indistinguishable from the underlying ideas, e.g. geometry and the representation of classical or modern architecture are all recognized styles from which architects draw. Elements extracted from styles are not protected.
More than ever, technology performs creative tasks encouraging designers to explore AI, and in the case of architecture, referencing and recall are part of the discipline. For this reason, copyrights in many jurisdictions remain open to interpretation, considering whether architecture, including imagery, should be protected in its own category. Perhaps separating architecture from “artistic works” and “graphic works” would develop another dedicated branch within the discipline that could contribute to copyright laws in an age of Artificial intelligenceinspiration and plagiarism.