Getty Images has banned the sale of AI generative artworks created with image synthesis models such as Stable Diffusion, DALL-E 2 and Midjourney through its service. The Verge reports.
To clarify the new policy, The Verge spoke to Craig Peters, CEO of Getty Images. “There are real concerns about the copyright of the results of these models and unaddressed rights issues related to the images, the image metadata and the people contained in the images,” Peters told the publication.
Getty Images is a large collection of stock and stock photos and illustrations that are often used by publications (like Ars Technica) to illustrate articles after paying a royalty.
Getty’s move follows image synthesis bans by smaller art community sites earlier this month, which found their sites inundated with AI-generated work that threatened to overwhelm artworks created without the use of those tools. Getty Images’ competitor, Shutterstock, allows AI-generated artwork on its website (and although Vice recently reported website removed AI graphics, we’re still seeing the same amount as before – and the terms of submitting content to Shutterstock haven’t changed).
The ability to copyright AI-generated artworks has not been tested in court, and the ethics of using artists’ works without consent (including artworks found on Getty Images) to train neural networks that can create almost human-like artworks is still an open question being debated online. To protect the company’s brand and its customers, Getty decided to avoid the issue entirely with its ban. However, Ars Technica searched the Getty Images library and found AI-generated artwork.
Can AI artworks be copyrighted?
While the creators of popular AI image synthesis models insist that their products create copyrighted works, the copyright issue of AI-generated images is not yet fully resolved. It is worth noting that one frequently cited article in the Smithsonian entitled “US Copyright Office Rules AI Art Can’t Be Copyrighted” is incorrectly titled and often misunderstood. In this case, a researcher attempted to register an AI algorithm as a non-human copyright owner, which the Copyright Office denied. The copyright owner must be a human (or a group of people in the case of a company).
Currently, AI imaging companies assume that copyright for AI artworks can be registered to a human or a company, just like the output of any other artistic tool. There’s some strong precedent for this, and that’s with the Copyright Office Decision 2022 In rejecting the copyright register for an AI (as mentioned above), it was referring to a landmark legal case from 1884 that upheld the copyright status of photographs.
At the beginning of the story of the camera, the defendant in the case (Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony) claimed that photographs could not be copyrighted because a photograph was “a reproduction on paper of the exact features of a natural object or person”. In fact, they argued that a photograph is the work of a machine and not a creative expression. Instead, the court ruled that photographs can be copyrighted because they are “representatives of original mental images [an] Author.”
People familiar with the AI generative art process as it stands will recognize, at least in relation to text-to-image generators, that their image synthesis results are “representatives of original intellectual conceptions of [an] Author”. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, a human’s creative input and guidance is still necessary to create an image synthesis work, no matter how small the contribution. The very act of selecting the tool and deciding to execute it is a creative act.
Under US copyright law, the shutter button is pressed on a camera that is randomly pointed at a wall continues to transfer copyrights to the human who made the image, and yet the human creative contribution in an image synthesis artwork can be far more extensive. Therefore, it would make sense for the person who initiated the AI-generated work to own the copyright to the image, unless restricted by license or usage conditions.
All in all, the issue of copyright in AI artworks in the United States has yet to be legally settled one way or another. Stay tuned for further developments.