Computer-generated artwork is one of the latest trends. Find out if you can actually make money by selling your AI-generated images.
Not too long ago, people were super hyped by the possibility of selling images as NFT, and now it seems like we are moving to the next thing: AI-generated artwork.
Maybe you have seen some of those hyperrealistic images on Instagram or just found out about them on YouTube. No matter how you discovered this world, I’m sure we all had the same reaction: this is cool and scary at the same time.
Cool because, let’s face it, those images can be pretty impressive. But if you stop for a while and consider the implications of this, it seems like a dystopian world where AI will finally take over the world is one step closer. On top of that, there are some quite serious problems for human artists, photographers, and graphic designers. It’s not difficult to imagine a day when most of these people will be replaced by an input box in a browser…
But if you are reading this article, you are not here to consider some philosophical arguments or to ponder about human extinction: you want to know if you can use the thing to make some money! So, let’s talk about it. Keep in mind that some AI has generated all the images in this article, and no bot was harmed in making them.
Which are the most popular AI image generators?
The way these systems work, from a user’s perspective, is very simple: you have an input box where you can type whatever it is you want the AI to create. Some systems allow you to add some parameters to give you more control over the final results, while others leave more control to the AI.
One thing all these applications have in common is that they allow users to try it for free and have a cap on the number and size of images that can be generated. After you reach the cap, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee.
My favorite so far, in terms of results, is Midjourney, although I dislike that it works on Discord. But it has an incredible documentation page on Github; it’s worth checking it out. In terms of quality, it’s probably the winner at the moment.
Dall-e 3 has an excellent interface and has significantly improved compared to the previous version, Dall-e 2.
DreamStudio seems to have a nice balance between ease of use and customization options, but it’s still in beta, and the results, compared to Midjourney, are not that great.
Stable Diffusion is a different beast entirely. Initially, it was far behind the competition since you had to install the whole AI system on your PC, and it was objectively very complicated. Thanks to the advent of Rundiffusion (use the code fabionodari15 to get a discount), it is now possible to use their app online without installing anything. Just buy credits based on time of use. A huge advantage that Stable Diffusion has over other AI systems is the large community that has developed (typical in most open source systems) and has created AI models specifically designed to generate images for particular purposes, such as these custom texts “hidden” in photos.
I suggest you try as many as possible to get a sense of what you can do and how much you enjoy the different systems.
Can I legally sell my AI-generated images and artwork?
Let’s get to the point. Here’s where things become a bit complex. There are three things to consider:
- What does the law say?
- What do these companies that provide AI bots say?
- Where can you sell your art?
Let me try to address each of these points so that we understand if it’s possible to sell your images. By the way, if you want to sell your photographs (taken by you), check out my complete guide to selling stock images and stock footage.
What does the law say?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office Rules, A.I. Art Can’t Be Copyrighted. You can read the full article here, but the TL;dr is that “an image generated through artificial intelligence lacks the “human authorship” necessary for protection”.
The article talks about how the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) rejected a copyright request for an AI-generated work of art for that reason. In his appeal, the artist argued that the USCO has proven unwilling to “depart from a century of copyright jurisprudence.”
I’m no legal expert so I might be completely wrong, but from my understanding, this doesn’t mean I’m legally not allowed to sell my AI-generated art. It simply means that I can’t enforce the copyright until the law is changed (and I’m sure it will happen soon enough). It’s also important to remember that this only applies to the US. So, every country might technically have different copyright laws.
Interestingly, in March 2023, there was an update from the US government (more info here) stating that AI-generated works are not eligible for copyright protection unless a human author contributes significant creative input. The key points are:
- AI-generated works are not eligible for copyright protection on their own
- A human author must contribute significant creative input to the work
- The Office will continue to monitor legal and factual developments involving AI and copyright
- AI can be considered a tool used by human authors in the creative process
- Copyright protection is reserved for works created by humans with original expression and creativity
What do these companies that provide AI bots say?
Let’s say the law doesn’t forbid selling AI images. Can I do it? Do these companies allow me to sell the images created through their AI systems?
Well, the answer is YES, you can. Some restrictions exist, but the most popular AI generators generally allow commercial rights.
This is taken straight from the Dall-e 2 disclaimer page:
Starting today, users get full usage rights to commercialize the images they create with DALL·E, including the right to reprint, sell, and merchandise. This includes images they generated during the research preview.
Users have told us that they are planning to use DALL·E images for commercial projects, like illustrations for children’s books, art for newsletters, concept art and characters for games, moodboards for design consulting, and storyboards for movies.DALL·E
This is taken from Midjourney. You are NOT the copyright owner (Midjourney is), and you grant them a non-exclusive license:
By using the Services, you grant to Midjourney, its successors, and assigns a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicensable no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable copyright license to reproduce, prepare Derivative Works of, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, and distribute text, and image prompts you input into the Services, or Assets produced by the service at your direction. This license survives termination of this Agreement by any party, for any reason.
Subject to the above license, you own all Assets you create with the Services.This does not apply if you…are NOT a Paid MemberMidjourney
One thing to remember with Midjourney is that, unless you pay an additional fee, all of your images are public (including the prompt you used), and anyone can see and use them without your knowledge. This doesn’t happen with other AI generators.
Where can you sell your art?
Now that we have clarified the two previous points let’s talk about where you can sell these images.
For some people, this means licensing the content through stock photography agencies. For example, Adobe Stock recently announced that they do accept AI-generated images. Same for Dreamstime. The only requirement is to indicate clearly that your uploaded images are AI-generated.
Others chose to sell some merchandise on Etsy or similar websites. Some other people sell physical paintings or canvases. Most stock agencies and merchandise websites don’t have too many restrictions regarding what content you can upload. They are happy as long as you bring them money.
There are some exceptions, though, such as high-quality stock photo agencies (like Arcangel). These agencies claim that they value human art more than AI-generated art, and while I believe this is partially true, I think the problem is strictly legal. Generally, these agencies require an exclusive license, but some AI generators, like Midjourney, grant the creators a non-exclusive license. So, checking which AI was used to generate a specific image becomes a legal nightmare.
Another problem that could prevent you from licensing the content through regular stock photography agencies is technical: these AI images are generated at a very low resolution. At the moment, Dall-e 2 creates 1024X1024px images, and, as far as I can tell, Midjourney creates images that are about 2048px on the long side. These resolutions are not big enough to be accepted by most agencies. The best workaround is using software like Topaz Photo AI (here is my review) to upscale the images (up to 600X). I believe this is only a temporary problem, though, and soon enough, we’ll see the option of generating bigger files (most likely in exchange for more money).
As I mentioned earlier, on Dall-e 2, there is a function that allows you to fill the empty spaces with some AI-generated content, and this means that you can enlarge the canvas, and the final image will be bigger than 1024px. The results are usually not that good compared to the regularly generated images.
To conclude, remember that it’s also possible to combine another “new” technology: NFT. Nothing is preventing you from minting your AI-generated images as NFT. If you want to learn more about selling your images as NFT, check out my guide.
This topic has also been discussed by fellow microstock photographer Alex, who runs the blog Brutallyhonestmicrostock.com. You can check his experience using Dall-e 2 in this article. Worth the reading.
Be mindful of market saturation
Let’s face it: this whole type-a-sentence-and-create-some-amazing-images thing is very cool. When I first saw the potential of the AI generator, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We know about AI since Hollywood has been talking about it for ages, but to see it in action and try it in person is something else.
My second thought, of course, was: how can I monetize this stuff? If you are reading this article, you are thinking the same thing, and that’s what every other person who has discovered this niche is doing right now. Here, you can see some excellent results from people using Midjourney. This will give you some ideas about the competition you’ll face.
The ease of use means that soon, there’ll be an unlimited supply of sci-fi hyper-realistic images, and people will upload everywhere, trying to make a few bucks. Don’t get me wrong, getting good results is not as easy as it seems, but it takes way less effort than becoming a real artist.
So, as is often the case, first movers will have the biggest advantage. But even if you discover this market a bit late, don’t get discouraged: there will always be room for creative and talented people. I can imagine a few job openings in the not-so-distant future for “AI senior prompt experts” or maybe a Fiverr service that offers a “database of AI prompt presets.” (Funny enough, that’s precisely what happened after I wrote the article. You can now find those jobs).
So, while earning something by selling AI-generated images is possible, don’t think it’s easy money. Some people will become very successful AI artists, others will create mediocre content, and others will give up soon enough. As always, try to experiment and have fun at the same time. This new technology’s potential is incredible, and I believe we have not even started.
If you enjoyed reading this article, don’t miss my review of the top AI tools for every photographer.
Here, you can find the list of the best stock photo agencies.