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AI Art Generators Hit With Copyright Suit Over Artists’ Images

Jan. 17, 2023, 5:55 PM

A group of artists is taking on AI generators Stability AI Ltd., Midjourney Inc., and DeviantArt Inc. in what would be a first-of-its-kind copyright infringement class action over using copyrighted images to train AI tools.

Sarah Andersen, author of the web comic “Sarah Scribbles,” along with fellow artists Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz, sued the AI companies in a purported class action that claims they downloaded and used billions of copyrighted images without obtaining the consent of or compensating any of the artists.

The rise of artificial intelligence applications has left a murky legal landscape in its wake, raising new copyright questions, including whether AI creators can be held accountable for their use of existing copyrighted works to train their AI generators. Attorneys have predicted that with the increase in use of AI and the lack of regulations on the matter, lawsuits will follow.

The complaint, filed in the Northern District of California, refers to the text-to-image model Stable Diffusion as “merely a complex collage tool,” claiming that the new images it generates are derivative works of the images it draws from, and the resulting works compete in the marketplace with originals.

Stable Diffusion has been incorporated into several software programs as an image-generating engine—including DreamStudio by Stability AI, Midjourney, and Dreamup by DeviantArt—the complaint said.

The artists say that AI tools permit users to create works “in the style of” a given artist instead of commissioning or licensing an original, violating the rights of millions of artists and taking away from their income.

The lawsuit is the artists’ attempt to end this infringement “before their professions are eliminated by a computer program powered entirely by their hard work.” The artists request permanent injunctive relief to stop the AI generators from using artists’ work without permission, which may require making changes to the AI products.

“Please note that we take these matters seriously,” a spokesperson for Stability AI told Bloomberg Law. “Anyone that believes that this isn’t fair use does not understand the technology and misunderstands the law.“

Separately, Getty Images announced in a press release Tuesday that they initiated copyright infringement legal proceedings against Stability AI in a UK court, alleging it used Getty’s images without a license.

Cause of Action: Copyright infringement, violation of Digital Millennium Copyright Act, violation of right to publicity, unfair competition, breach of contract.

Relief: Permanent injunction; statutory and punitive damages; attorney’s fees; pre-and-post judgment interest.

Response: Midjourney and DeviantArt didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Joseph Saveri Law Firm, LLP represents Andersen, McKernan, and Ortiz. Attorneys for the defendants haven’t yet entered an appearance.

The case is Andersen et al v. Stability AI Ltd. et al, N.D. Cal., No. 3:23-cv-00201, filed 1/13/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Riddhi Setty in Washington at rsetty@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Adam M. Taylor at ataylor@bloombergindustry.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com