After an initial batch of AI-generated images appeared available at stock photo sites Getty Images and Shutterstock recently, both top companies in the industry are now officially removing and banning the submission of AI-generated visual art on their platforms.
But why is that when popular AI art-generating tools like Dall-E and Midjourney assure their users' full copyright ownership of the content?
We have the details, and the answers, next.
UPDATE – October 25, 2022: Shutterstock announced a partnership with OpenAI that will bring their text-to-image functionality from Dall-E onto the agency's platform, in a new tool named Shutterstock Generate. For more details, read our full coverage of Shutterstock and OpenAI's partnership.
As CEO Craig Peters told The Verge, the company is no longer accepting images created with tools like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, Dall-E, etc. And they will remove AI-generated content which was in their libraries already.
Furthermore, Peters disclosed they're working with the C2PA (Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity) to design filters for AI visual content.
The leading stock photo site, Shutterstock, took a clear stand regarding licensing AI-generated pictures by informing contributors that they’re removing AI-generated pieces from portfolios —which were available until recently as Peta Pixel informed— and they will not be accepting synthetic media submissions from third-party tools. This was back in September 2022.
Update – October 25, 2022: Shutterstock is collaborating with OpenAI –the lab behind Dall-E– with a new AI-image generation tool named Shutterstock Generate, which will come to the agency's website in the coming months. This tool is trained exclusively with Shutterstock content, and AI-generated images made with this application are the only ones that the agency will work with for the time being.
They will not accept AI-generated images created with any other tools.
With more or less the same words, these top agencies signal that they are banning synthetic media from their marketplaces due to unclear or unaddressed issues with copyright.
At Stock Photo Secrets, we had already anticipated this situation in our cover piece about AI-generated images: the main problem with AI-created visuals is that permissions have to be secured every step of the way; otherwise, copyright isn’t as ironclad as it needs to be.
You see, innovative and exciting tools like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney have trained their software with tons of photos and illustrations from the web, many of which are likely copyrighted or even licensed at stock photo sites (according to Waxy a small sample of images used to train Stable Diffusion proved this). Then the software uses the information learned from that training to create entirely new images based on scraps from millions, if not billions, of other pictures that belong to other creators.
Every time it’s not 100% clear that all those copyright holders have authorized their work to be used to train AI software, the legal foundation of an image created with said software crumbles. And given there are now developers rolling out tools to identify AI training usage –like Spawning’s tool to see if your photos have been used in AI training–, one can presume the odds of artists and persons complaining about their work being used without their permission are not zero.
It doesn’t matter that platforms like Dall-E give users full ownership of the art they generate: the final image might be yours, but unless the dataset from the software is all in the clear, your copyright might not hold.
The potential legal risks in copyright and biometric data (another big concern in AI photos, which refers to people’s right to privacy over their likeness and having it used to train AI algorithms) are reasons behind Getty and Shutterstocks’ ban on AI media submissions.
We expanded on this some time ago when we talked about Dall-E opening to the public: stock photo sites’ core business is that of offering legally-safe images and legitimate licenses. As long as they can’t guarantee that for AI imagery, it seems Getty Images and Shutterstock won’t risk their customers or themselves with them.
And it’s a wise move because whether you are a big global brand or a small business owner, you don’t want to risk a copyright dispute for a photo you bought in a legit way.
Does that mean stock photo agencies will never license AI art? Not at all. It just means this is way too early, and there are still too many legal details to iron out before they feel comfortable doing so.
Considering how AI-generated visuals are a recurrent topic in big industry events like the upcoming DMLA Conference, it's safe to say the issues that affect AI photo licensing can be eventually overcome.