AI Art: Creativity or Infringement?

Countless artists have taken inspiration from “The Starry Night” since Vincent Van Gogh painted the swirling scene in 1889. Now, artificial intelligence systems are doing the same, training themselves on a vast collection of digitized artworks to produce new images you can conjure in seconds from a smartphone app. The images generated by tools such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion can be weird and otherworldly but also increasingly realistic and customizable.

However, some living artists and photographers are starting to fight back against the AI software companies creating images derived from their works. Two new lawsuits have been filed in London and San Francisco against image-generating services for allegedly copying and processing millions of copyright-protected images without a license. The lawsuit alleges that AI-generated images “compete in the marketplace with the original images. Until now, when a purchaser seeks a new image ‘in the style’ of a given artist, they must pay a commission or license an original image from that artist.” The copyright disputes mark the beginning of a backlash against a new generation of impressive tools that can generate new visual media, readable text, and computer code on command. They also raise broader concerns about the propensity of AI tools to amplify misinformation or cause other harm. For AI image generators, that includes the creation of nonconsensual sexual imagery.