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Getty sues creator of AI generator Stable Diffusion over copyrighted images

Stock image proprietor Getty Images is filing a lawsuit against Stability AI, creator behind the popular text-to-image AI tool Stable Diffusion, over alleged copyright infringement.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Seattle-based stock photo company Getty announced that it has filed a claim against Stability AI, creator of popular image generator Stable Diffusion, in the High Court of Justice in London.


Getty claims Stability AI has “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright and the associated metadata owned or represented by Getty Images absent a license to benefit Stability AI’s commercial interests and to the detriment of the content creators.” The company emphasizes that instead of chasing monetary damages, it wants to establish a favorable precedent with the lawsuit.


In an interview with The Verge, Getty Images CEO Craig Peters compares the AI image generator to music-pirating platform Napster, and the early days of music streaming platforms “I equate [this to] Napster and Spotify. Spotify negotiated with intellectual property rights holders — labels and artists — to create a service. You can debate over whether they’re fairly compensated in that or not, but it’s a negotiation based on the rights of individuals and entities.”


“I don’t think it’s about damages and it’s not about stopping the distribution of this technology,” he adds. “I think there are ways of building generative models that respect intellectual property.”


This marks yet another escalation in tensions between AI tech firms and traditional content creators, as they grapple to coexist in an age of tech-produced imagery.

Tools like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and Dall-E rely on a large number of existing databases around the web for data-training, however, they are often done so without the creator’s knowledge or consent. While AI firms and advocates claim that this practice is covered by fair use laws, legal experts tend to be divided on the issue, and generally agree that such controversies will have to be settled in court.


Artists and creators have raised concerns over the exploitative nature of these tools. Just last weekend, a trio of artists — Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz — filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the machine learning systems infringe the rights of "millions of artists".


Getty has been proactive in its fight against the legal encroachments of AI-generated content, going as far as banning all such content from its platform in an announcement last September.


An independent study published last August surveyed 12 million images from Stable Diffusion’s dataset and found more than 15,000 photos from Getty. Other image sources include online marketplace Etsy, fellow stock image site Shutterstock, and the wall art and print retailer Fine Art America. Several reports online have found that the AI image generator has a tendency of spitting out images that included a warped version of the Getty Images watermark, like this one:

Getty’s competitor Shutterstock, however, seems to be standing on the opposite end of the spectrum in regards to its stance on the technology. Last week, they announced an expansion of its relationship with Meta to “use its datasets to develop, train and evaluate its machine learning capabilities.” This came hot on the heels on the company’s announcement last October, when Shutterstock signed an extended partnership with OpenAI that would integrate the AI system DALL-E 2 into Shutterstock’s content platform, making the tool more widely available.