A lawsuit filed in San Francisco, Calif. federal court last Friday challenges two artificial intelligence-powered (AI) image generators as modern collage tools that violate the copyrights of artists whose works are used to “train” the generators, creating derivative works without license.
The class action filed by three full-time artists alleges that U.K.-based companies that operate Stable Diffusion, and the U.S.-based companies that operate the Midjourney Product, both of which are AI image products, commit various forms of copyright infringement.
The 92-page complaint details not only the companies’ histories and arrival in the AI space, but also how AI image products work, summarizing that they are essentially “complex collage tool[s].”
In order to create their image generating tools, the defendants reportedly downloaded or otherwise acquired copies of billions of copyrighted images without permission, including the plaintiffs’ works. Using those works to “train” the AI products, Stable Diffusion and the Midjourney Product generate seemingly new images through a mathematical software process.
The derivative images, which qualify as so based on their likeness to the original image, are then sold without giving the originating artist compensation, in violation of copyright law, the filing alleges.
Previously, the suit said that “[o]nly a very small number of incredibly talented artists are capable of this same feat for a single other artist (i.e., reproducing art that is convincingly in that artist’s style), let alone for countless other artists.” By contrast the artists accuse the AI image products of now doing so with ease, thereby violating the rights of millions of artist-class members.
The complaint asserts that the defendants benefit commercially and profit richly from the use of copyrighted images, pointing to the companies’ wealth and in particular, Stability’s October 2022 $1 billion valuation. In turn, the plaintiffs and putative classes “seek to end this blatant and enormous infringement of their rights before their professions are eliminated by a computer program powered entirely by their hard work.”
The suit states claims for direct and vicarious copyright infringement, violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), California’s Unfair Competition Law, and anticipates the defense that the conduct is permitted under the Fair Use Doctrine. The plaintiffs seek both injunctive relief halting the alleged infringement and damages.
In a similar AI-related class action against Github several months ago, two anonymous software developers claimed that GitHub, Microsoft, and OpenAI’s AI coding product CoPilot stripped the plaintiffs of their intellectual property rights related to code licensed by and stored with GitHub. The defendants’ responsive pleading is due next week.