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The Impact of AI Repurposing on Visual Artists

The rapid advancements in artificial intelligence have brought about unforeseen challenges, particularly for visual artists who find themselves grappling with AI's ability to repurpose their creations.

The proliferation of AI-generated search engines has revolutionized the way people access digital content, providing instant access to text and image-based search results at the click of a button. However, the sources feeding these AI algorithms remain undisclosed, leaving artists in the dark about the origins of their work's replication. This has given rise to a disconcerting trend: individuals can simply enter an artist's name into a generator, and the AI system will produce a digital artwork in that artist's distinctive style.

One such case is that of Kelly McKernan, among the first visual artists to stumble upon internet images strikingly similar to her own unique style, seemingly produced by AI engines. By merely typing her name into a text box, users of Stable Diffusion could generate art mirroring McKernan's distinctive aesthetic. Shockingly, no one had sought her permission or offered compensation for this artistic replication.

For emerging artists striving to cultivate their craft and make a living from it, this poses a potentially devastating threat. It serves as an easily accessible backdoor for individuals to imitate an artist's work without remuneration. In contrast, established artists with substantial income streams are less vulnerable to these challenges.

The situation could exacerbate further if the United States were to adopt a stance similar to Japan's. Japan recently declared its unwillingness to protect copyright when data is used to train AI models. This means artists would have no legal recourse when their artistic styles are used to generate AI-driven content without their consent.

In response to these issues, McKernan joined a class-action lawsuit against three companies whose AI systems replicated her art style. The defendants in this case are Stability AI (Stable Diffusion), Midjourney, and DeviantArt. The lawsuit alleges that Stable Diffusion was trained on billions of images scraped from the internet without consent, including images owned by multiple artists.


If AI-powered products and services continue to operate in this manner, copyright protection will inevitably suffer. These legal proceedings underscore the fact that AI development will not go unquestioned or unchallenged. Artists and their advocates are fighting to protect their creative rights in the face of this evolving technological landscape.

By Ira Garbers with edits generated by ChatGPT, September 28,2023,OpenAI

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