AI-generated art is an exciting space right now, but do we want stock photo sites embracing it?
I think the easy answer to that question is “no way.” The value proposition of art grabbed from a stock photo site is different from what you might get from MidJourney or Stable Diffusion. And while the results of those kinds of artistic creations are interesting, it seems like a bad value proposition to let images illustrated by actual people or stock photography live in the same setting as a bunch of art illustrated with the help of a computer.
That’s, fortunately, the direction Getty Images leans on all of this at the moment, revealing to The Verge this week that the company had decided not to allow AI-generated photography out of concern of its copyright status.
“There are real concerns with respect to the copyright of outputs from these models and unaddressed rights issues with respect to the imagery, the image metadata and those individuals contained within the imagery,” the company’s CEO, Craig Peters, told the website.
This is understandable for a few reasons—for one thing, the scraping-driven approach that most AI generators utilize raise genuine copyright questions that have yet to be resolved in court. For another, there is an genuine, not-totally-cleared-up concern that AI-generated images might not be copyrightable (though some, like Ars Technica’s Benj Edwards, note that the specific concern is overblown based on existing photography-related precedents). And given that a popular source of AI imagery is the portrayal of celebrity personalities, Getty could find itself awash in images that could present serious rights issues. (Some are speculating that Getty itself might have a claim against the AI companies.)
One other concern worth discussing here, putting on my graphic designer’s hat for a minute here, is the message that a move like this would project to the company’s target audience. Getty Images tends to have a reputation as a more “premium” stock photo service, including a significant editorial photo offering. I have used Getty for a long time for a lot of reasons, and I think it would harm their reputation with creators to put AI-generated imagery in front of them, especially given that not everyone is necessarily on board with the idea in general. Certainly there are more cookie-cutter stock images on Getty than there were a decade ago, reflecting the increased need on the market for their services, but I think AI images, while still having some sort of value, would offer a strange competitive framing for Getty Images, a service artists and illustrators often utilize to help build more complex illustrations.
Is Getty perfect? No way. Odds are, you’ve likely seen this guy or this woman way too many times since the start of the pandemic. There was a period where seemingly every startup used one of these two figures.
But with AI art, Getty threatens to take its stock-photos-that-feel-like-stock-photos problem to new extremes. AI images should have their own place to live, no matter their copyright status, and Getty Images should set a line in the sand to ensure that continues to be the case.
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