Getty Images sues AI image generators

Artists are suing AI companies over the unauthorized use of billions of images to train AI.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed by a group of artists against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt in San Francisco, accusing them of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, right of publicity, and engaging in unlawful competition. Artists believe for-profit AI companies allegedly used billions of copyrighted images without artists’ consent to train AI art-generating software.

According to the complaint filed, artists ​​— Sarah Andersen, Kelly McK­er­nan, and Karla Ortiz – "seek to end this blatant and enormous infringement of their rights before their professions are eliminated by a computer program powered entirely by their hard work."

AI image synthesis tools like Stability AI's Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, or DreamUp generator on DeviantArt enable users to create artwork similar to living artists by typing phrases. The widespread use of these tools in the past year has sparked controversy and protests among artists. The critics are skeptical regarding the copyright infringement issue. The image databases AI tools use to “learn” may be protected by the fair use doctrine. Fair use doctrine promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

Also, it is challenging to determine the copyright violations within the framework of the current legal base. Trained AI models generate new imagery rather than producing collages or copies of existing images.

The artists are not the only ones battling the AI companies. Stock image platform Getty Images also filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Justice in London against Stability AI, claiming it ‘unlawfully’ scraped millions of images from its site.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the company claims that Stability AI “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright” to train its software.

In October, Shutterstock, a company that provides stock images and competes with Getty Images, announced its intention to expand its partnership with OpenAI, the organization behind DALL-E and the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT. The goal of this partnership is to improve the quality of AI-generated content and establish a fund to compensate artists for their contributions.

OpenAI has so far avoided any legal backlash, even though the company has not publicly disclosed the content of its training dataset.