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Getty Images sues the maker of AI art generator Stable Diffusion over data scraping allegations

Surprised it took this long.
an artificial intelligence paints a portrait of a woman (3d rendering)
R_Type via Getty Images
Andrew Tarantola
Andrew Tarantola|@terrortola|January 17, 2023 1:45 PM

Last September Getty Images banned the inclusion of AI-generated works in its commercial database over copyright concerns. On Tuesday, Getty Images announced that it is suing Stability AI, maker of the popular AI art tool Stable Diffusion, in a London court over alleged copyright violations. 

"It is Getty Images’ position that Stability AI 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," Getty Images wrote in a press statement released Tuesday. "Getty Images believes artificial intelligence has the potential to stimulate creative endeavors."

"Getty Images provided licenses to leading technology innovators for purposes related to training artificial intelligence systems in a manner that respects personal and intellectual property rights," the company continued. "Stability AI did not seek any such license from Getty Images and instead, we believe, chose to ignore viable licensing options and long‑standing legal protections in pursuit of their stand‑alone commercial interests." 

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The details of the lawsuit have not been made public, though Getty Images CEO Craig Peters told The Verge, that charges would include copyright and site TOS violations like web scraping. Furthermore, Peters explained that the company is not seeking monetary damages in this case so as much as it is hoping to establish a favorable precedent for future litigation.

Text-to-image generation tools like Stable Diffusion, Dall-E and Midjourney don't create the artwork that they produce in the same way people do — there is no imagination from which these ideas can spring forth. Like other generative AI, these tools are trained to do what they do using massive databases of annotated images — think, hundreds of thousands of frog pictures labelled "frog" used to teach a computer algorithm what a frog looks like. 

And why go through the trouble of assembling and annotating a database of your own when there's an entire internet's worth of content there for the taking? AI firms like Clearview and Voyager Labs have already tried and been massively, repeatedly fined for scraping image data from the public web and social media sites. An independent study conducted last August concluded that a notable portion of Stable Diffusion's data was likely pulled directly from the Getty Images site, in part as evidenced by the art tool's habit of recreating the Getty watermark.  

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Getty Images sues the maker of AI art generator Stable Diffusion over data scraping allegations