Pop artist Roy Liechtenstein is today most well-known for his comic art, where he converted imagines which perceived as directly taken from popular graphic novels and painted them on a big canvas. His most famous paintings had been “Drowning Girl” and “Whaam!”, both from 1963. With this new style he became one of the founders of the pop art movement. The images may look relatively simple, but should not mislead the viewer. Lichtenstein enjoyed a traditional education in art. This with interruptions as he served three years in the US-Army during World War II. He studied fine arts at the University of Ohio, where he received a Master in 1949. His early works had been influenced by Cubism and Expressionism. With the time he became fascinated by the raising comic and animation industry, so that he started to combine this with fine art. Thanks to his artistic background, he was able to simplify his paintings (similar like today Big Data gets resumed to Smart Data). Lichtenstein was not only creative artist, since 1960 he also lectured at the Rutgers University. In his following career he was not afraid to connect art and commerce, as he secretly hided comic characters in his art or in ’77 designed a BMW 320i as part of the company’s art program, which exists still today.

Today’s application Prisma, available for Android and iOS, took photo-software to a next level. Instead of using standard filter options, which each time use the same algorithms, the software is based on Artificial Intelligence. For its use, the app has to be connected to the internet. The app it-self serves as a connection to the Cloud. To update a filter the program uploads the picture to the server. With scanning all images, the software learns from each use and due to this, each time applies the filter differently. So theoretically, if you use today the filter on a photo and you will repeat the same function next week, the result will differ.

One of Prisma’s popular filter is “Tears”, which only in a couple seconds can turn every photo in a Liechtenstein-like pop art painting, no artistic skills are needed. This opens a question, who is the copyright-owner, the photographer, The Prisma company, jointly all Prisma users or maybe even the Lichtenstein family (who manages the master’s heritage)?

1997 Alfa Romeo 155 ti, applied Prisma filter "Tears"
1997 Alfa Romeo 155 ti, applied Prisma filter “Tears”

Independent from an ethics point of view, legally it is divided. The photographer keeps his or her rights, at least if this was given for the original image. Nevertheless based on the use of the software, the software claims non-exclusive rights to use the created pictures with-out paying royalties:

“Prisma does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Prisma a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you stylize on or through the Service.”

Such provisions are similar to social media platforms, where the users provide similar rights to the platform. This opens the question, what about photos, which are meant completely for private use, where

  1. the user has no commercial agreement with the visual identifiable people (“model agreement”) or
  2. uploads images from other copyright holders to just add for fun a filter.

So what about the case that an individual uses Prisma to lay a “Lichtenstein filter” over the Mona Lisa? Prisma Labs, Inc. has the non-exclusive right on such an image? Complicated questions, so it is no surprise that you have to be at least thirteen years old to use this graphic software.

These question are relevant for all forms of art, as AI could support furthermore sculpturing (combined with 3D Printing), music or literature.  Already Microsoft Office 2016 included connection with the Cloud and intelligent services. For example the software recognizes passive voice and suggests a sentence in the more attractive active voice. In a potential next step, a software could analyze the writing styles of different authors and adapt a text accordingly.  The prerequisite is given, Google already scanned more than 20 Million books.

A German proverb states that “Kunst kommt von Können“ (German for: „art comes from can“). Modern software changes the rule, as to repeat known art, classic education and craftsmanship lose importance. But this shall not mislead, as to invent new forms of art, such is still needed.


Henz, Patrick (2017): “Access Granted – Tomorrow’s Business Ethics”