Valve has reportedly become the latest company to respond to the uncertain legal landscape surrounding AI-generated artwork by simply blocking its use in submitted materials. An anonymous developer using the Reddit handle Potterharry97 reports that a Steam game page submission was rejected for using “art assets generated by artificial intelligence that appear to rely on copyrighted material owned by third parties.”
Potterharry97 originally posted about the rejection in a May post on the now private GameDev subreddit (partially archived here, Google Cache here). In that post, Potterharry97 admitted that “much of the assets have some AI involvement in their creation” through the use of Stable Diffusion. In a follow-up post this month on the AIGameDev subreddit, potterharry97 wrote that the initial entry was intended to be an early placeholder version, “with 2-3 assets/sprites admittedly clearly AI-generated out of the hands.”
That “obvious” use of AI art tools apparently set off some alarm bells with a Valve moderator, who reportedly responded that Valve had “identified intellectual property … that appears to belong to one or more third parties. In the special, [Game Name Here] contains art assets generated by artificial intelligence that appears to rely on copyrighted material owned by third parties.
“Since the legal ownership of such AI-generated art is unclear, we will not be able to ship your game containing these AI-generated assets,” Valve’s post continued, “unless you can affirmatively confirm that you own the rights to all used IPs in the data set that the AI has trained to create the assets in your game.”
Potterharry97 resubmitted the game with some art edits to remove “any obvious signs of AI”. But the developer said Valve’s response indicated that after “[taking] our time to better understand the AI technology used to create [the game]’, Valve still refused to distribute [the game] because it is unclear whether the underlying AI technology used to create the assets has sufficient rights to the training data.”
“I didn’t even know AI art wasn’t allowed because I’d heard it was used, and I’ve even seen some pretty obvious examples,” potterharry97 wrote in the comment thread under their first post.
Whose art is it anyway?
It’s unclear if the game rejection reported by Potterharry97 represents a new, official Valve policy. We have yet to see other reports of Steam games being rejected for similar reasons; on the contrary, some games that clearly and explicitly use AI-generated art have been available on Steam for months. Neither Valve nor Potterharry97 were immediately available to respond to a request for comment.
That said, it wouldn’t be surprising if Valve felt skittish about allowing AI-generated art assets in Steam games. Valve’s Steam Direct publishing guidelines already ban games with “content that you don’t own or don’t have sufficient rights to,” and establishing “sufficient rights” to art generated by many popular AI tools can be done at this point. currently be a fraught legal minefield.
In January, artists filed a class action lawsuit against a number of generative AI art companies over their use of copyrighted training data. Getty Images joined its own similar lawsuit in February.
Legal questions about whether training an AI model represents a “fair use” of copyrighted material are incredibly thorny and currently unsettled. Given that uncertain legal environment, organizations such as Getty Images and Newgrounds and the scientific journal Nature have explicitly prohibited employees from using AI-generated art. At the same time, companies from Marvel to DeviantArt have embraced the technology to some degree.
Creators and businesses can get around potential unresolved legal issues by using an AI art generator trained on public domain and officially licensed images, such as Adobe Firefly. But the existence of such tools shows how difficult enforcement of an AI art policy can be for a company like Valve, which could struggle to verify the legality of the training set of all the myriad image generation tools that a developer could use (including game engines such as Unity).
Similar ownership issues can crop up with human-generated art in Steam games, of course, but Valve’s moderators don’t seem to feel the need to explicitly verify the art copyrights for every game submission before it goes on Steam, barring explicit complaints or clear copyright infringement.
These days, the use of AI-generated art is sometimes easier to catch, as was the case with Potterharry97’s Stable Diffusion sprites and their telltale hands. But that may become more difficult as improvements in generative synthesis models make AI art increasingly indistinguishable from human-made art.
As Potterharry97 put it in his first Reddit post, “Even if I redo everything, how can I definitively prove whether or not something is AI-generated?”