A number of online sites that sell the rights to use images commercially now offer artificial intelligence-generated images. Some people claim they aren't really legal, because the AI is "trained" on copyrighted images.

To cut to the chase, using AI to generate a generic picture of a person doing somersaults in the desert would presumably be 1) legal, or 2) it would be so generic no one would either notice or care.

However, suppose one uses AI to generate a picture of a famous person (e.g. John Wayne or Elvis Presley). I'm assuming neither the subject nor their estate could sue as long as the picture isn't derogatory and doesn't violate their publicity rights. However, suppose a photographer who once took a photo of Elvis Presley says "Hey, that looks like a derivative of my photo!"

In plain English, are AI-generated images of famous people legal? I'm guessing they are legal unless and until a photographer or artist claims copyright infringement, in which case they would have to prove their claim in court.

(Sorry for the confusing question; I'm juggling a lot of new legal terms and issues I'm currently trying to understand.)


Jurisdiction: United States.

Use: Commercial non-fiction book.

  • 1
    You should really state the jurisdiction. There are international conventions which lead to some similarity, but also plenty of national details.
    – o.m.
    Oct 22, 2023 at 8:13
  • While of course it's fine to assume away publicity rights for the purpose of this question, they would surely be in play in the real world. AI is not a necessary element there, though, which is perhaps why you want to ignore them here. For example, an image of someone drawn or painted from memory or from life doesn't infringe copyright, but it could well violate the subject's personality rights.
    – phoog
    Oct 22, 2023 at 12:51
  • I thought personality rights were more related to advertising. If you write an article or book about a person(s), then you are discussing them in an "expressive" manner, right? And if you include a picture of the person you're discussing, wouldn't that also be expressive? I was, however, surprised to learn that putting a picture of, say, Elvis Presley, on the cover of a book about Elvis Presley can be illegal. I guess the front cover constitutes advertising?
    – Paredon
    Oct 22, 2023 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


Depends on the jurisdiction, the technology, and sometimes also the purpose of use.

  • AIs would not normally be trained on any one picture of a person, they generate a composite of many pictures.
  • But see this question for the commercial use of the likeness of a real person without permission. A news article is different from merchandising, see the use of courtroom artists where no photos are allowed.

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