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BIC's top 10 typical cases in 2023- (2023)Jing 0491 Min Chu No. 11279

english.bjinternetcourt.gov.cn | Updated: 2024-02-28


To fully tap the role of typical cases in establishing adjudication rules, improving trial quality and promoting comprehensive governance of cyberspace, the Beijing Internet Court (BIC) selected the "Top 10 Typical Cases in 2023", ones with demonstrative significance in advancing law-based cyberspace governance.

(2023) Jing 0491 Min Chu No. 11279

A copyright case involving AI-generated image


This case adheres to the "human-centered" determination of copyright ownership, for the first time recognizing that natural persons have copyright in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create images in large-scale models under certain conditions. This will be beneficial in achieving the inherent goal of copyright law which is to "incentivize creative work" while protecting and reinforcing the dominant position of humans in the AI industry development. It will encourage more people to use AI software to create a greater quantity and higher quality of works, ensure the stability of rights for subsequent authorization and rights protection of AI-generated content, and increase the motivation for people to purchase related large model services. Thus large model manufacturers would be incentivized to varying degrees, be  able to obtain economic benefits through licensing and other means, and ultimately increasing their technological research and development efforts and attracting more users to use large model tools. The original human painters who contribute to the training data for AI large models will also receive corresponding rights protection, thereby promoting the AI industry to enter a virtuous cycle of "use-profit-investment". Meanwhile, this case will promote the dissemination of culture throughout society, enriching the diversity of works, directly impacting the innovative models of the future AI content generation industry in China and promoting the innovative development of China's AI industry. 

Case summary:

The plaintiff used the open-source software Stable Diffusion to generate the image involved in the case by inputting prompts, and posted on Xiaohongshu, a social networking platform. The defendant published an article on Baijiahao, a self-media platform, using the disputed image as an illustration. The plaintiff contended that the defendant used the picture without permission and had cropped out the plaintiff's signature watermark on the Xiaohongshu platform, leading users to mistakenly believe that the defendant was the author of the work. Claiming that the behavior constituted a serious infringement of the plaintiff's right to attribution and the information network dissemination right, the plaintiff demanded a public apology and compensation for economic losses from the defendant.

The defendant argued that he was unsure whether the plaintiff had the rights to the disputed image, and that the content of the published article was mainly about the original poem, not the image. Furthermore, there was no commercial interest related to the publishing of the article, nor was there an intention of infringement. 

Main considerations:

- The disputed image met the definition of a work and thus constituted a work.

Judging from appearances, the disputed image resembles typical photos or a paintings commonly seen, obviously falling within the realm of artwork possessing a certain expressive form. The image was generated by the plaintiff using generative AI technology. From conception to the final selection of the image, the plaintiff made a certain intellectual input, such as designing the presentation of the character, selecting prompt words and arranging their order, and setting relevant parameters. The image reflected the plaintiff’s intellectual input, and thus met the criterion of “intellectual creation”.

The image itself demonstrated identifiable differences from prior works. In terms of creative process, the plaintiff designed the visual elements of the characters and their presentation through prompt words and set parameters for the layout and composition of the image, demonstrating the plaintiff's choices and arrangements. On the other hand, after obtaining the initial image by inputting prompt words and setting relevant parameters, the plaintiff continued modifying the picture by adding prompt words and adjusting parameters until obtaining the final version of the disputed image. This process reflected the plaintiff's aesthetic choices and personal judgment. In the absence of contrary evidence, it could be determined that the image was independently created by the plaintiff and embodied the plaintiff's personalized expression, thereby meeting the requirement of "originality."

The disputed image was a graphic work of aesthetic significance composed of lines and colors, and thus fell into the realm of fine art works protected by the Copyright Law. 

- The plaintiff, being the author of the disputed image, enjoyed the work's copyright. 

Regarding the ownership of the rights of the disputed image, as stipulated in China's Copyright Law, the term "author" is limited to natural persons, legal persons or unincorporated organizations, so the AI models themselves cannot be recognized as an author according to China's Copyright Law. The plaintiff rendered settings on the AI model based on his needs, and decided on the final version. The image was directly generated based on the plaintiff's intellectual input, and reflected his personalized expression. Therefore, the plaintiff is the author of the image and enjoys its copyright. 

- The defendant infringed upon the plaintiff's rights and should be liable for tort.

Without permission, the defendant used the disputed image as an illustration and posted it in his own social platform account, making it accessible for the pubic at chosen times and locations, which infringed upon the plaintiff's right to information network dissemination. In addition, the defendant removed the signature watermark of the image, an infringement of the plaintiff’s right of authorship. The defendant was liable for those infringement. 

Details of the judgment:

The defendant was ordered to apologize to the plaintiff and compensate the plaintiff with 500 yuan ($70).