AI-art lawsuits could set copyright precedents for titans like Microsoft and Stability AI

Thursday, January 19, 2023 by Snacks
Michelangelo would never (GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Michelangelo would never (GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

The AI suits are coming… Generative AI has blown up in the past year, with tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion garnering mainstream headlines. Image generators including OpenAI’s DALL-E and Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion “create” images from text prompts (think: “a neon banana in the style of Vincent van Gogh”). But those AI-art tools are trained on billions of images scraped from the internet, many of which are copyrighted by the artists who created them.

  • Artists sue: This week 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.
  • Companies too: Also this week, Getty Images 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 (partly evidenced by the tool's habit of including the Getty watermark).

It’s a legal gray area… So far there aren’t clear rules around the use of genAI because it’s such a new thing. But it’s growing at lightning speed and is top of mind for companies and artists. In September, Getty Images 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 (so did Shutterstock).


It’s a cart-before-horse scenario… Determining whether AI-art tools violate copyright law could be thorny, but the outcomes of lawsuits will likely set precedents for how to handle such cases. Artists have already started sharing tools for determining whether their work was scraped by AI. Meanwhile, corporations are putting the AI cart before the horse: this week Microsoft announced plans to integrate OpenAI’s generative AI tech into all its products.

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