BLOG POST BY: Rowan Byers
February 2, 2023

Getty Images Are Suing AI Generators for Copyright Infringement

Generative AI seems to be all the rage at the moment, it’s all anyone seems to be talking about, and yes we may be guilty of banging on about ChatGPT quite a bit. Well, Generative AI tools are back amongst the headlines in a cat amongst pigeons scenario. Collective artists, and Getty Images are taking legal action against AI art tools for stealing their work.

Getty Images Suing Ai Generators


Artists Sue AI Generators for Copyright Infringement: Legal Implications of Using AI-Generated Imagery

Getty Images Back Artists in Lawsuit Against AI Generator Stable Diffusion for Copyright Infringement

AI Art Generators Should Complement Human Creativity, Not Replace It

Artists Sue AI Generators for Copyright Infringement: Legal Implications of Using AI-Generated Imagery

Artists are angry.

AI programs like ChatGPT and DALL-E have been commended for their ability to spark new opportunities for businesses and content creators alike. However, there is a question around the legality of such processes, AI generated imagery for example.

DALL-E trawls the web for source material for new images, some of which comes from the workings of independent artists who charge for their art. As of right now, there isn’t a legal practice or legislative constraint to prevent AI tools from doing this – which is something that a collective of artists is looking to put straight in a new case.

“A trio of artists have launched a lawsuit against Stability AI and Midjourney, creators of AI art generators Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, and artist portfolio platform DeviantArt, which recently created its own AI art generator, DreamUp. The artists allege that these organizations have infringed the rights of ‘millions of artists’ by training their AI tools on five billion images scraped from the web ‘with­out the con­sent of the orig­i­nal artists’.” Writes The Verge.

The lawsuit raises the concerns artists have for their own work, claiming that several AI image applications have been stealing original art and using it as the source code for new imagery.

What’s more concerning is that someone using generative AI for art can specifically choose to replicate the art of a selected artist. In the DreamStudio guide to writing better AI prompts, it explains: 

“To make your style more specific, or the image more coherent, you can use artists’ names in your prompt. For instance, if you want a very abstract image, you can add “in the style of Pablo Picasso” or just simply, “Picasso”.

It’s far from a coincidence in some cases, AI art tools are encouraging users to copy the styles of artists, so much so that it’s even written in the instruction manual.

Artists are right to be angry.

Getty Images Back Artists in Lawsuit Against AI Generator Stable Diffusion for Copyright Infringement

The makers of Stable Diffusion have received another proverbial punch to the stomach, because along with an artists collective, Getty Images is also taking legal action against them.

The app’s creators, Stability AI, claim to empower billions of people to create stunning art within seconds, reads a statement on its website. Getty Images claims that Stability AI has copied and processed millions of images without a license, which is an infringement on the company’s copyright.

Getty Images have long supported AI systems, believing in the potential to stimulate creative endeavors. Getty’s statement reveals that the company has provided licenses to leading technology innovators for AI training, with respect to the company’s personal and intellectual property rights. Getty Images says Stability AI did not seek a similar license, and even chose to ignore viable licensing options and legal protections in pursuit of a stand-alone commercial interest.

Speaking to The Verge, Getty Images CEO Craig Peters underlined the aim of the lawsuit:

“I don’t think it’s about damages and it’s not about stopping the distribution of this technology. I think there are ways of building generative models that respect intellectual property. I equate [this to] Napster and Spotify. Spotify negotiated with intellectual property rights holders – labels and artists – to create a service. You can debate over whether they’re fairly compensated in that or not, but it’s a negotiation based on the rights of individuals and entities. And that’s what we’re looking for, rather than a singular entity benefiting off the backs of others. That’s the long term goal of this action.”

The lawsuit, which currently sits in the High Court of Justice in London, claims Stability AI infringed intellectual poverty rights including copyright in content owned or represented by Getty Images.

Getty Images Suing Ai Generators

AI Art Generators Should Complement Human Creativity, Not Replace It

“Artists are not just whining.” wrote French visual artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme in a Facebook post back in December. His outrage came following the discovery that one of France’s top publishing companies had used AI generated art for the cover of Veronica Roth’s book Poster Girl. 

Printed on the back of the book’s cover, discoverers found that MidJourney, an AI image generator now facing legal action, was used to formulate the artwork for this version of the book. MidJourney stands accused of intellectual property theft, alongside Stable Diffusion and DevianArt, and with artists claiming that these tools are infringing on their rights, cases like Poster Girl offer a pretty harrowing insight into what some AI tools are doing.

While AI generators are experiencing a monumental upturn across digital platforms, there are questions being raised in regards to the litigation, or lack thereof, protecting the work of artists. 

It’s clear now why Getty Images is refusing to list any AI generated artwork for sale on its platform. Google too has spoken against releasing its own AI generation tools at this stage, as Microsoft looks to integrate its search engine with OpenAI.

“We believe that getting AI right – which to us involves innovating and delivering widely accessible benefits to people and society, while mitigating its risks – must be a collective effort involving us and others, including researchers, developers, users (individuals, businesses, and other organizations), governments, regulators and citizens. It is critical that we collectively earn public trust if AI is to deliver on its potential for people and society. As a company, we embrace the opportunity to work with others to get AI right.”

Getty Images Suing Ai Generators

Interestingly, Google has also stated that AI-generated content is in violation of its search guidelines. John Mueller suggests content automatically generated with AI is considered spam, in regards to the webmaster guidelines. Mueller says that AI generated content falls under the category of auto-generated content, which could lead to a manual penalty.

Despite a number of risks and legal challenges that threatens he existence of AI tools, it is unlikely that they’re to disappear entirely. The most likely outcome will be that AI companies will acknowledge usage restrictions, providing artists with accreditation rather than taking their imagery for source code without permission.

There are risks, anyone looking to adopt AI generated tools as part of their content strategy should do so with wit and maintained awareness. AI tools should be used as a complement to human ideation, not as a process to ultimately replace it.

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Written by: Rowan Byers

Insights Executive at The Goat Agency