Artists’ copyright case against AI faces an uphill battle-How To


Imagine a future where tomorrow’s artists are not just human visionaries but also lines of code and algorithms. This future is upon us, and it has sparked a legal battle that seeks to balance the scale of artistic expression and copyright protection in an age where machines produce masterpieces. At the heart of this storm is US District Court Judge William H. Orrick, who recently issued a ruling that could set the course for the evolving relationship between AI and art.

This landmark case, brought before the US District Court, puts three artists on trial: Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz. Their accusations are clear and direct: AI creators using the powerful Stable Diffusion technology have violated their copyrights, often without asking for permission, paying, or even mentioning them. The defendants in this battle for the top figures are Stability AI, Midjourney, and the iconic social media site DeviantArt.

Artists' copyright case against AI faces an uphill battle
The case drew attention to the critical need for artists to register their rights with the US Copyright Office, as two of the plaintiffs, McKernan and Ortiz, failed to do so, weakening their legal standing.Photo credit)

Classification of the AI ​​art case

The case is about the complex issue of artificial intelligence, copyright law, and creative arts. Here is a detailed description of the case:

  • Stakeholders: The case involves three main parties:
    • Plaintiffs (Artists): Three artists, namely Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz, initiated legal action. They accused the defendants of copyright infringement related to their works of art.
    • Defendants (Manufacturers of AI Art): Two businesses, Stability AI and Midjourney, are creators of AI art generators that use Stable Diffusion technology to convert text into images. The third defendant, DeviantArt, is a popular social network and photo sharing service that launched its AI photo generator, “DreamUp,” using Stable Diffusion technology.
  • The main allegations: The main allegations made by artists are that AI art generators, including those produced by Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt, have been infringing their copyrights. Artists argue that these AI systems often use extensive data sets of human-created art to train and create new works of art. Importantly, this was done without permission, compensation, or even awareness of the original artists.
  • Motion to dismiss: Responding to the accusations of these artists, the defendants filed a request to dismiss the case, demanding that the case be dismissed for various legal reasons. The main purpose of this motion was to argue that the case should not proceed according to the artists’ claims.
  • Important errors in the complaint: The case faced several challenges due to what the judge saw as a major flaw in the artists’ complaint:
    • Lack of copyright registration: Another important issue that was highlighted in this case was that two of the artists, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz, had not registered the copyrights of their works of art with the US Copyright Office. This omission was considered a significant weakness in their claims of copyright infringement.
    • Limited copyright registration: Sarah Anderson, the third artist involved, only had registered copyrights for a small portion of her extensive work. This limitation also reduced the strength of artists’ claims against AI art generators.
  • Role of LAION website:
    • A key point of contention in the case was the Large-scale Artificial Intelligence Open Network (LAION), an open source database containing billions of images. LAION was created by computer scientist and machine learning researcher Christoph Schuhmann and his collaborators. All three AI art production systems examined rely on LAION as a key training resource.
    • The complexity comes from the large and diverse nature of the LAION database. Judge Orrick emphasized that not all images within LAION can be considered copyrighted material, and not all AI-generated artwork is taken from copyrighted sources. This has made it challenging to establish copyright infringement in each specific case.
  • “Great Match” Challenge: Judge Orrick emphasized the requirement of “substantial similarity” between AI-generated art and original human-created works to find copyright infringement. This meant that it was important to show that the art produced by AI was mainly derived from copyrighted material and closely resembled the original works. Without this required evidence, claims of copyright infringement are unlikely to be upheld.
Artists' copyright case against AI faces an uphill battle
Although the case was partially dismissed due to flaws noted in the artists’ complaint, it highlights the evolving challenges and controversies surrounding AI-generated art, copyright law, and ongoing creative rights efforts in the digital age (Photo credit)

While the lawsuit is facing dismissal due to noted errors, artists are allowed to amend their claims and file a more focused lawsuit, specifically citing instances of copyrighted material being infringed. Notably, the judge allowed one count to proceed—a claim of direct copyright infringement against AI Stability related to Sarah Anderson’s 16 copyrighted works.

In summary, this case highlights the complex and emerging challenges at the intersection of AI-generated art law and copyright law. It emphasizes the need for further adaptation in legal frameworks to address the unique challenges posed by AI in the creative arts sector. Although the case faced a partial withdrawal, it underscores the unresolved issues and ongoing debates in the evolving area of ​​AI-generated art and copyright law.

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