Artists versus Artificial Intelligence: The Modern-day Battle Over Intellectual Property Rights 

February 2, 2023

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is at yet another crossroads, but this time it is with artists and their creations. Earlier this month, three artists initiated a lawsuit against Stability AI, DevianArt, and Midjourney, which are some of the leading A.I. generator companies currently in the market. The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement because these companies have been using images of the artists’ work to train their programs to produce similar work without their consent. Specifically, the “suit alleges that Stable Diffusion was trained on billions of images scraped from the internet without consent, including images owned by this trio of artists.” Regardless of whether this suit follows through with litigation or settles outside of court, many agree that this legal battle will be detrimental to the future of A.I. generator companies. 

Interestingly, A.I. generators are a relatively new phenomenon, becoming popular within the technology industry only in the past few years. A.I. generators can very quickly create a variety of products, including text and images. A.I. generators like the ones employed by Stability AI, DevianArt, and Midjourney are “computer programsthat create images based on their algorithms.” Essentially, these programs utilize machine-learning algorithms that learn to complete tasks based on the training data they are provided. 

This effectively destroys an entire career path made up of the most talented and passionate living artists today. This development accelerates the scarcity of independent artists like me.

The A.I. generators subject to the most recent lawsuit train their programs by “scraping” images off the internet without consent from the artists of the original works. While we have always relied on the internet search platforms to quickly find images, A.I. generators seem to question whether we should allow these programs to feed off others’ work. 

The artists of this lawsuit have even commented on just how invasive and disrespectful these program trainings are to their work. One of the artists stated, “This effectively destroys an entire career path made up of the most talented and passionate living artists today. This development accelerates the scarcity of independent artists like me.” Many facets of artificial intelligence were created simplify work- and life-related tasks, but now this technology is advancing in ways that jeopardize many professions and lifestyles. 

This lawsuit is the first time that courts will have the opportunity to address A.I. generators and similar technology. The principle legal backdrop for these claims is copyright infringement, but this legal protection might be ill-suited against this phenomenon. The A.I. generators don’t necessarily produce replicas of pre-existing work. Rather, they produce originals and use any images and materials from their training as guideposts in processing the new image, which might undermine any copyright infringement argument. However, the claim also alleges that these A.I.-generated images based off the artists’ work are “derivative works,” which presents a more open and unprecedented question under copyright infringement for the court’s review.  

Artists around the world have expressed concerns that A.I. technology will make them redundant.

Even if this lawsuit gets settled outside of court, the dominoes have already started to fall for A.I. generator companies. “Artists around the world have expressed concerns that A.I. technology will make them redundant,” and even commercial companies are starting to join in this concern. Just days after the group of artists filed their lawsuit in California, Getty Images initiated a lawsuit against Stability AI in London. Getty Images issues licenses to “leading technology innovators for purposes related to training artificial intelligence systems in a manner that respects personal and intellectual property rights.” In that lawsuit, Getty Images claims that Stability AI did not seek a license yet still benefited from many Getty Images in training their own algorithms. These two lawsuits will likely spark a major movement to address concerns with A.I. generators and how they should fit into our society.  

Above all else, these recent lawsuits resurface preexisting concerns about the balance, or the lack thereof, between technology and human work. On the one hand, technological innovations promote efficiency, simplicity, and convenience. In contrast, they also eliminate the need for certain jobs, which will continuously affect the workforce. Nevertheless, there are certain qualities that technology is incapable of possessing, at least for now. Unlike A.I., humans “possess ‘generalized intelligence,’ with the kind of problem solving, abstract thinking and critical judgment that will continue to be important in business.” So, while the fears about technological innovation rendering human jobs obsolete are valid, human abilities are essential at least at certain stages in various sectors of the workforce. The balance between technology and human capabilities will continue to fluctuate as technology continues to advance. To me, the biggest question we must address in examining technological infringements on human life is who or what should be in control of the other: humans or technology. The answer to this question will dictate what changes and limitations are placed upon A.I. programs and similar technology. 

McGee Roman

McGee Roman is from Richmond, Virginia, and graduated from Davidson College in 2021 with a degree in Political Science and Hispanic Studies. While at Davidson, she played four years of Division I field hockey. McGee has an interest in real estate and business law.