Lawsuits accuse AI content creators of misusing copyrighted work

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
  • Artists say AI generators trained on billions of copyrighted images
  • New class action says Stability AI, Midjourney, DeviantArt did not license artists' works

(Reuters) - A group of visual artists has sued artificial intelligence companies Stability AI Ltd, Midjourney Inc, and DeviantArt Inc for copyright infringement, adding to a fast-emerging line of intellectual property disputes over AI-generated work.

Stability AI's Stable Diffusion software copies billions of copyrighted images to enable Midjourney and DeviantArt's AI to create images in those artists' styles without permission, according to the proposed class-action lawsuit filed Friday in San Francisco federal court.

The artists' lawyers, the Joseph Saveri Law Firm and Matthew Butterick, filed a separate proposed class action lawsuit in November against Microsoft's GitHub Inc and its business partner OpenAI Inc for allegedly scraping copyrighted source code without permission to train AI systems.

Butterick said in a blog post that since the November lawsuit they had "heard from people all over the world — especially writers, artists, programmers, and other creators — who are concerned about AI systems being trained on vast amounts of copyrighted work with no consent, no credit, and no compensation."

Getty Images also announced Tuesday that it had initiated legal proceedings against Stability AI in the United Kingdom over Stability's alleged copying of millions of its images.

Stability AI "chose to ignore viable licensing options and long‑standing legal protections in pursuit of their stand‑alone commercial interests," Getty Images said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Stability AI said Tuesday in response to the artists' lawsuit that the company takes "these matters seriously," and that "anyone that believes that this isn't fair use does not understand the technology and misunderstands the law."

Representatives for the other parties in the artists' case did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

London-based Stability AI released Stable Diffusion and its AI-image generator DreamStudio last August. The company announced in October that it had raised over $100 million in funding.

Artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz told the California court that Stability "scraped" more than five billion images from stock-image websites like Getty Images, shopping sites like Shopify, and online communities like Tumblr and Flickr to use as training data for Stable Diffusion without any licenses.

Their lawsuit said Stable Diffusion is "merely a complex collage tool," and that all AI image creators violate the rights of millions of artists in "substantially the same way."

The artists asked the court for money damages and court orders to stop the alleged infringement.

The artists' case is Andersen v. Stability AI Ltd, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:23-cv-00201.

For the artists: Joseph Saveri, Cadio Zirpoli, Christopher Young, Elissa Buchanan and Travis Manfredi of Joseph Saveri Law Firm; Matthew Butterick; Brian Clark and Laura Matson of Lockridge Grindal Nauen

For the defendants: attorney information not available

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com