Are AI tools artists or infringers? Court decides
In a landmark moment for the interplay between art and technology, the U.S. legal system today delved into the murky waters of copyright challenges posed by AI-generated artistry. As AI increasingly borrows inspiration from the annals of human creativity—often sans formal authorization or acknowledgment—a pressing question emerges: Where does copyright stand amidst this?
Stepping into this evolving discourse, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California issued a defining judgment. At the heart of the matter were Stability AI, heralded for its seminal Stable Diffusion software; Midjourney, an AI image generator leaning on similar tech; and DeviantArt, the global image-sharing behemoth, which launched its AI-infused "DreamUp" in 2022. Challenging these tech titans in court were three artists: Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz, whose work lies at the epicenter of this debate.
Dismissal motion upheld
The trio of AI image generator firms submitted a motion to have the copyright infringement allegations by the artists dismissed. Today, Judge Orrick primarily accepted this motion, pointing out numerous defects in the complaint. Orrick elaborated on the reasons he deemed the artists' claim as faulty, notably highlighting that two of the artists, McKernan and Ortiz, hadn't officially registered their art with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Furthermore, out of the numerous works mentioned in the artists' grievance, only 16 had copyright claims by Anderson. The artists had argued that a portion of their images found their way into the vast LAION database, a colossal collection of images crafted by computer scientist and ML researcher Christoph Schuhmann along with his team. This database was the training ground for all three AI art generator tools.
Database's protective shield
Orrick points out a protective aspect of the LAION database for the AI companies, suggesting:
“The other problem for plaintiffs is that it is simply not plausible that every Training Image used to train Stable Diffusion was copyrighted (as opposed to copyrightable), or that all DeviantArt users’ Output Images rely upon (theoretically) copyrighted Training Images, and therefore all Output images are derivative images.”
Even if specifics are given, and even if the plaintiffs fine-tune their claims to focus on outputs derived from copyrighted images, I remain unconvinced about copyright claims rooted in a derivative theory without showcasing 'substantial similarity.' The reference cases seem to agree that the accused derivative should still somewhat resemble the original or possess its protected aspects."
Simply put, the vast array of artistic references utilized by AI image generators complicates the claim that a generated image infringes upon any specific copyrighted artwork, unless it predominantly mirrors that particular original piece.
Orrick has provided an opportunity for the artists to refine and resubmit their claims, focusing on specific copyrighted images they believe were infringed upon. However, the judge did permit one claim to proceed — the direct copyright infringement accusation against Stability AI for unauthorized duplication of Anderson’s 16 protected artworks.
Just in: NDCA Judge Orrick has issued his long-awaited ruling on defendants’ motion to dismiss in the closely watched AI copyright lawsuit filed by a group of artists against Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt. Full ruling here: https://t.co/KEsAC2SwR9
— Aaron Moss (@copyrightlately) October 30, 2023