Artists Take a Stand Against AI Firms Repurposing Their Creations

by Ethan Kim

The artistic endeavors of Kelly McKernan have always been characterized by their boldness and vibrancy. McKernan’s acrylic and watercolor paintings often feature vivid feminine figures, adorned in striking shades of green, blue, pink, and purple. Describing their style as “surreal” and “ethereal,” McKernan’s works explore the intricacies of the human experience, particularly moments of discomfort along the journey of life.

The term “human” holds a special significance for McKernan in the current landscape. While making a living as a visual artist has never been easy, the challenges have grown more substantial due to the pandemic. Yet, a new existential threat has emerged—one originating from an entirely non-human source: artificial intelligence.

Approximately a year ago, McKernan, who identifies by the pronoun “they,” began noticing online images strikingly reminiscent of their own unique style. These images seemed to be generated through AI engines after inputting McKernan’s name. Hailing from Nashville and creating both traditional art and digital illustrations, McKernan soon uncovered a disconcerting reality: companies were utilizing their artwork to “train” AI systems, a concept that was once relegated to the realm of science fiction but now has far-reaching implications for artists’ livelihoods worldwide.

McKernan recalls, “People were tagging me on Twitter, and I would respond, ‘Hey, this makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t give my consent for my name or work to be used this way.'” Despite their efforts to engage with these companies and convey their concerns, the response was silence, leaving McKernan frustrated.

Currently, McKernan is one of three artists pursuing legal action against AI tool developers, aiming to safeguard their copyrights and artistic careers. The lawsuit’s outcome rests in the hands of a federal judge in San Francisco who has expressed uncertainty regarding whether AI companies are indeed infringing upon copyrights by utilizing vast amounts of images to generate new ones.

“We’re in a David versus Goliath scenario,” McKernan asserts, highlighting the power imbalance. They elaborate on the economic impact, stating, “Someone’s profiting from my work. I had rent due yesterday, and I’m $200 short. That’s how desperate things are right now. And it just doesn’t feel right.”

This legal case could potentially set a precedent for various creators, ranging from actors and writers to musicians and programmers, who may need to confront AI developers seeking to profit from human creations.

The lawsuit was jointly filed by McKernan, along with fellow artists Karla Ortiz and Sarah Andersen. Their legal action is directed towards companies such as Stability AI, the maker of text-to-image generator Stable Diffusion, based in London. The complaint also includes other entities like Midjourney and the online art gallery DeviantArt.

The lawsuit contends that AI-generated images infringe upon the rights of countless artists, as these AI systems digest massive datasets of digital images and produce derivative works that compete with the originals.

The artists emphasize that their objection isn’t rooted in a categorical rejection of AI technology, but rather in the desire to prevent their exploitation by it. The legal action seeks both class-action damages and a court order to prohibit companies from exploiting artistic creations without proper consent.

While Stability AI declined to provide a statement, the company emphasized in a court filing that its AI system generates “entirely new and unique images” based on simple textual prompts, and these images either rarely or never resemble those in the training data.

The ongoing proliferation of image-generating AI tools can largely be traced back to the Large-scale Artificial Intelligence Open Network (LAION), managed by Christoph Schuhmann, an educator based in Hamburg, Germany. Schuhmann, while not a defendant in the lawsuit, acknowledges the artists’ concerns. He foresees a future where AI-generated content becomes indistinguishable from human-generated work across various mediums, including video, images, and text.

The uncertainty surrounding artists’ compensation was evident in a U.S. Senate hearing, where Ben Brooks of Stability AI conceded that artists were not being remunerated for their contributions. Karla Ortiz, one of the suing artists, expressed her frustration during the hearing, highlighting the lack of compensation, credit, or consent for the use of her work by AI developers.

This legal battle’s implications are profound, as artists like Ortiz fear that the industry’s reliance on AI-generated content will render human artists redundant due to the cost-effectiveness of AI subscriptions. As AI technology continues to evolve, artists worry about their future roles being reduced to mere editors of AI-generated content rather than creators.

McKernan and Ortiz are wholeheartedly dedicated to this legal struggle, viewing it as a means of preserving the essence of human creativity. They emphasize that the artistic process is an integral part of what makes us human, and the battle against the exploitation of artists’ work by AI is a fight worth waging.

Reported by [Author’s Name], Providence, Rhode Island.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Copyright

What is the main concern of the artists in this text?

The artists are deeply concerned about artificial intelligence using their creations without consent, impacting their livelihoods and the essence of human creativity.

What prompted Kelly McKernan to take action?

Kelly McKernan noticed AI-generated images resembling their unique style, which raised concerns about their work being used without permission.

What is the lawsuit’s objective?

The lawsuit aims to protect artists’ copyrights and careers by preventing AI tools from generating derivative works without proper consent.

How do the artists feel about AI technology?

The artists are not opposed to AI technology itself but want to ensure they are not exploited by it, emphasizing proper credit and compensation.

What potential implications does this legal battle hold?

The lawsuit’s outcome could set a precedent for creators across various fields, determining how AI developers can profit from human creations.

How does Christoph Schuhmann’s project relate to this?

Schuhmann’s project, the Large-scale Artificial Intelligence Open Network (LAION), contributes to the proliferation of image-generating AI tools, raising concerns about the future of human-generated content.

What is the artists’ fear regarding the future of their industry?

The artists fear that the rise of AI-generated content could lead to a diminished role for human artists and a loss of their creative livelihoods.

Why do the artists believe this legal battle is worth fighting?

The artists view this legal battle as crucial for preserving the essence of human creativity and ensuring proper recognition and compensation for their work.

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JaneDoe August 31, 2023 - 9:27 pm

artists have point. they wrk hard, need credit & $$$! AI stealing art not cool.

AlexG September 1, 2023 - 12:05 am

wow, these artist rly fighting against ai? dat’s cray, but i get it. AI shud respect human creativity!

ArtLover77 September 1, 2023 - 2:24 am

this whole AI vs art thing makin me think. AI art kewl, but artists rights matter too!


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