Artists file a copyright lawsuit against Stable Diffusion and Midjourney

Jan 17, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Artists file a copyright lawsuit against Stable Diffusion and Midjourney

Jan 17, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Three artists have filed a copyright lawsuit against the creators of Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DreamUp, DeviantArt’s AI image generator. Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, Karla Ortiz, and their attorney claim that these programs have infringed the copyright of “millions of artists” by training their algorithm on their work without permission.

The Midjourney founder recently admitted to using “hundreds of millions of images” without their authors’ consent to train the image generator’s AI. And now, his company and the two others could face legal consequences.

Lawyer Matthew Butterick is an artist himself, and he teamed up with litigators Brian Clark and Laura Matson of Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P. On behalf of Andersen, McKernan, and Ortiz, he filed the lawsuit against Stability AI (the company behind Stable Diffusion), DeviantArt, and Midjourney.

“Stable Diffusion contains unauthorized copies of millions—and possibly billions—of copyrighted images”, Butterick writes in a blog post. “These copies were made without the knowledge or consent of the artists.” He argues that, even if we assume the nominal damages of only $1 per image, this misappropriation would add up to around $5 billion!

In his explanation, Butterick wrongfully notes that Stable Diffusion is a “21st-cen­tury col­lage tool” and his lawsuit has been criticized over this. Stable Diffusion Frivolous writes that the diffusion model doesn’t store images, so it doesn’t collage them. It rather learns data distributions and then generates new work from them.

Butterick notes that the resulting images (“collages”) from AI image generators “may or may not outwardly resemble the training images.” While they’re not exactly collages, he might still be onto something here. Although small, there still is a possibility of AI-generated art resembling previously made artwork. With the right prompts and artistic style applied, you might actually generate an image that’s too similar to a work of an artist. It reminds me a bit of the “Infinite monkey theorem,” but it’s not impossible. And what do we do then? Does the original artist hold the copyright, or is it the person who created it using a text-to-image generator?

Scraping millions of images without artists’ consent is, in my opinion, a wrong approach, at least on the moral side. Many artists argue against using their work to train algorithms, but there are also those with arguments that support it. Here’s an interesting thought from an earlier article about AI training:

“If an art student studies all of Picasso’s 10,000 paintings and then creates a new painting that is clearly based on them, we call this the advancement of culture. The same is true if a writer uses a word that was coined by Shakespeare, or if a graffitist is clearly inspired by Shepard Fairey.”

In his article Patterns, Culture, and Theft, Seth Goddin argues that “taking an idea isn’t theft; [it] is an oxymoron.” He argues that this is how culture evolves and that “ideas belong to all of us.” So, we can’t say whether the judges will rely on arguments like this one or the ones stated by the artists who feel robbed of their work and years of learning and perfecting. But it’s definitely a topic to think about and to make it more defined in legal terms as soon as possible.

[via The Verge]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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3 responses to “Artists file a copyright lawsuit against Stable Diffusion and Midjourney”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    At the very least the artist studying Picasso paid for museum admissions, art books & art school. The algorithms paid for nothing and yet are profiting from what they’ve used, to the detriment of working artists today.

    I’m in no way opposed to the technology, moreso the way that humans choose to apply it.

    1. Michael Chastain Avatar
      Michael Chastain

      “At the very least the artist studying Picasso paid for museum admissions, art books & art school.”

      I’m a photographer. I’ve learned extensively from the photographs others have made the conscious choice to publish publicly on the Internet. I’ve learned from art work I see in everyday life, and in fact from just observing the world around me. Nobody expects me to pay for any of this.

      1. Lunatic Lawyer Avatar
        Lunatic Lawyer

        Ad: “Nobody expects me to pay for any of this.”. You are a person. If people programmatically scraping the internet for images to feed into an AI will have to pay is probably up to the increasing number of lawsuits we’re currently seeing. So let’s sit back and enjoy the show.