It’s not news that owners of copyrights in music and images have been using AI tools to troll the web looking for infringements for a while. Once an infringement was located, more often than not, money was paid, and a quick settlement was reached. But now, suddenly, there is an entirely new set of issues for copyright owners to confront, which is not going to be so straightforward.
Generative AI came into its own in 2022, with tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion receiving mainstream headlines. Image generators, including OpenAI’s DALL-E and Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion, “create” images from text prompts (think: “a dancing monkey in the style of Picasso”). The issue is that those AI-art tools are “trained” on billions of images scraped from the web, some or even many of which are copyrighted by the artists who created them. Those artists might also have moral rights which protect the integrity of their original works.
Recently a group of artists filed a class-action suit against AI art generators Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt, arguing that the companies “violated the rights of millions of artists” and profited by using copyrighted images to train their AI models. A similar suit was recently filed against Microsoft, GitHub and OpenAI.
Also this week, Getty Images (Getty) sued Stability AI, alleging it “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright” without a Getty license. A study conducted last year concluded that a sizable chunk of Stable Diffusion’s data was likely pulled from Getty’s site. Not that tough a call since the tool has a habit of including the Getty watermark in its “created” images.
As is so often the case on cutting-edge legal issues, right now, it’s all a big gray area. There aren’t clear rules around the use of generative AI because it’s so new. But it’s growing rapidly and should be top of mind for companies and artists. In September, Getty banned the inclusion of AI-generated images in its database over copyright concerns. But Adobe announced that it would sell images generated by AI tools like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion (as did Shutterstock).
Determining whether AI art tools actually do violate copyright law is going to be complicated, but the outcomes of these early lawsuits will likely set precedents for how to handle such cases in the future. Artists have already started sharing tools for determining whether their work was scraped by AI. Meanwhile, corporations are moving ahead with AI. Microsoft has already announced plans to integrate OpenAI’s generative AI tech into all its products.