The Reckoning For Image-Generating AI Is Here, Starting With Getty Images

Getty Images, one the biggest suppliers of stock images on the internet, announced in January that it was pursuing legal action against the creator of Stable Diffusion. Stable Diffusion is the generative AI program that made stunning digital art using nothing but text prompts. The charges were filed against Stability AI, the company behind Stable Diffusion, in the High Court of Justice in London. 

The visual media company accused Stability AI of copyright infringement because the latter used copyright-protected media content to train the Stable Diffusion's text-to-image algorithm. About three weeks since the announcement, Getty Images has filed a lawsuit against Stability AI in the U.S., targeting the company for using over 12 million images from Getty's repository without explicit permission.

The complaint has been submitted before a federal court in Delaware, alleging that Stability AI didn't obtain a proper license for using Getty's image stockpile to train the deep learning models behind Stable Diffusion. The lawsuit alleges that Stability AI not only copied "the associated captions and metadata" for the images, but also tweaked and misrepresented Getty's copyright management information. 

Getty Images now seeks compensation for "irreparable harm caused by Stability AI's intentional and willful acts," and also seeks a share of the profits that Stability AI may have earned after illicitly using the millions of images. The company says it has a separate license for letting its images be used for AI training, but Stability AI circumvented those rules knowingly.

It's the beginning of a long fight ahead

In its lawsuit, Getty Images also claimed that the Stable Diffusion creator also modified its image watermarks in "callous disregard of Getty Images' rights." The core argument here is that Stable Diffusion produces images that either closely resemble stock images owned by Getty, or seem like a derivate of an actual image. 

This isn't the first lawsuit of its kind targeting the markers of AI image generators, and it likely won't be the last. In January, a bunch of artists sued Stability AI, Midjourney, and Deviant Art for imitating billions of copyright-protected images that copied artists' distinct styles without their permission, or compensating them for it.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in a San Francisco federal court. Microsoft-backed GitHub and ChatGPT-creator OpenAI were also the target of a lawsuit late last year, accusing the two of scraping code to train their respective AI systems without due compensation, credit, or even consent. 

Artists claim that instead of commissioning them for visual artwork in the future, brands will resort to using tools like Stability Diffusion, depriving them of their livelihood. The key content is that an AI company can't just do anything it wants with data. AI developers must be aware of any restrictions on using the data, whether they are connected to copyright laws, or data privacy laws.