Midjourney tried to copy famous photographers’ styles, court docs reveal

Jan 4, 2024

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.

Midjourney tried to copy famous photographers’ styles, court docs reveal

Jan 4, 2024

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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Midjourney copy style

Midjourney came under the spotlight again for all the wrong reasons. Recently revealed court documents show a massive list of names Midjourney keeps to “feed” its image generator and make it copy the distinctive styles of various artists. They include illustrators, painters, animators, and more. And, of course – photographs are no exception.

How it began

Perhaps you remember the case from October 2023. Three artists — Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz — filed a lawsuit against Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. Their attorney claimed that these programs had infringed the copyright of “millions of artists” by training their algorithm on their work without permission.

US District Judge Orrick dismissed parts of a lawsuit but allowed the plaintiffs to pursue their claims. The amended lawsuit filed in November includes seven new artists and more details on the alleged infringement.

New evidence emerges

The vast list was revealed recently, showing around 16,000 artist names. Midjourney allegedly uses and plans to use them to copy their styles to AI-generated images users produce. A part of the list is submitted as evidence, but a more extensive list is available on the Internet Archive.

The now archived list shows names of famous artists like Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, and Gustav Klimt, to name just a few. There are even entities like Studio Ghibli and Disney. By the way, the names of the two out of three artists who started the lawsuit are also there: Karla Ortiz and Sarah Andresen.

We browsed through the list and searched for the most famous photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m sure there are plenty more, but these are the names we found. They are under the “Proposed Additions” tab:

Andre Kertesz, Annie Leibowitz, Ansel Adams, Anton Corbijn, Brassai, Cindy Sherman, David LaChapelle, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Elliot Erwitt, Helmut Newton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Mario Testino, Martin Parr, Nan Goldin, Paul Strand, Richard Avedon, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Sally Mann, Sebastian Salgado, Steve McCurry, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston, Wolfgang Tillmans, Yousuf Karsh

But there is more. An artist, Jon Lam, who is a part of the lawsuit, shared messages from Midjourney’s internal messaging service. The messages were reportedly sent in early 2022 and appear to show Midjourney CEO David Holz sharing a Google Sheet and discussing how he created the list of artists.

Midjourney copy style

Different opinions

This isn’t the first lawsuit of artists against AI tech giants. In September 2023, the Authors Guild and famous writers like George R.R. Martin sued OpenAI. They claimed the company used their books without permission to train their AI models. On the other hand, OpenAI made it possible for artists to opt out of training data – but the process is extremely complicated. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I believe that scraping millions of images without the artists’ consent is not a morally sound approach. I know many artists who disapprove of their work being used to train algorithms, while others support it. But in his article Patterns, Culture, and Theft, Seth Goddin argues otherwise. He claims that “taking an idea isn’t theft; [it] is an oxymoron.”

“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.”

Seth 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.

Here you can find more details of the lawsuit, along with all the evidence and updates.

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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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5 responses to “Midjourney tried to copy famous photographers’ styles, court docs reveal”

  1. Mihnea Ciulei Avatar
    Mihnea Ciulei

    imagine that!!! 😁

  2. Jolyon Ralph Avatar
    Jolyon Ralph

    I wonder, if your artistic style can be distilled down to a computer algorithm, then is is really something truly artistic?

    1. Tunes Firwood Avatar
      Tunes Firwood

      Jolyon Ralph Sure: because it didn’t exist until you created it.

      Creation is hard, reproduction is easy.

      1. Dunja Djudjic Avatar
        Dunja Djudjic

        Good point!

    2. Tina Mooney Avatar
      Tina Mooney

      Jolyon Ralph weird statement considering how AI works