Recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence and its potential impact on artists
Credit: David Nguyen
The creative field was always assumed to be something too inherently human to be threatened by automation. However, recent developments in Artificial Intelligence – or “AI”– have forced many to re-evaluate this assumption. Indeed, the development of AI systems capable of mimicking man-made artwork has accelerated exponentially in the last few years. It has come a long way since the beginning of its development in the late 1960s.
In January 2021, AI art generator DALL-E published the first high-quality series of AI-generated artworks. Even then, many of them could pass as regular artwork or photos.
In May 2022, Microsoft and Google announced their AI art generator projects.
In August 2022, AI art software, Stable Diffusion, was released to the public, making the new technology much more accessible. But none of this was seen as a threat until late August 2022, when a game designer entered the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition with 3 AI-generated images. He won First place and a $300 prize for his AI-generated images. This win has since sparked a wave of debate around AI art's place in society, especially in the creative industry.
An important component in this debate revolves around copyright law. Copyright is important because it legally protects individual authors' work against corporations or other individuals who may attempt to use it for their own profit without permission. There are two major questions under the copyright umbrella, the first being: who holds the copyright to AI-produced art?
Carys Craig, an Associate Law Professor at York University who has published extensive research on intellectual property and authorship, says that works created by AI cannot be copyrighted under Canadian Law because it is not a “human-authored” work and, therefore, not recognized as “original work of expression.”
The law in the US started by taking a similar approach. The US Copyright Office rejected numerous copyright requests for AI-generated artworks until September 2022, when it granted copyright registration to a graphic novel using artwork generated by Midjourney AI.
According to Benj Edwards, a seasoned tech and tech-history writer who now reports on AI and machine learning for Ars Technica, “The US copyright office has not ruled against copyright on AI artworks. Instead, it ruled out copyright registered to an AI as the author instead of a human.” This means that as long as there is also a human author, an AI-generated artwork may also be granted copyright registration.
The second question surrounding Copyright Law and AI art is whether or not AI art generators are trained to use copyrighted artworks to generate images.
According to Ars Technica, many AI art generators – including Google’s Imagen AI and Stable Diffusion – are trained with data from an online dataset called LAION-5B. This dataset includes over 5 Billion uncurated images assembled through bots scouring billions of websites, including highly popular art-sharing platforms such as Deviant Art, Pinterest, and Artstation.
This means that many copyrighted artworks and personal photos are a crucial part of the development of these AI art generators. Naturally, this is done without the consent of any artists, photographers, or anyone depicted in any photo on the internet. This fact may not seem pertinent considering the scale of the database, but due to the text data tied to each image, a user can still prompt an AI to generate something resembling a specific person or person’s art style.
This has caused much concern over the possibility of generating deepfake imagery using these AI generators and generating artwork in the unique styles of living artists, potentially using their life’s work for profit without ever even having to consult them.
Adam Duff, or “Lucidpixul,” an illustrator and YouTuber based in Montreal, even compared AI art generated in the style of living artists to identity theft. In a recent YouTube video on AI art, he stated: “The act of just copying somebody, or copying someone’s style [...] You are pretending to be somebody else, that’s identity theft. That steals a person’s humanity, steals a person’s existence, and profits from it. And when it comes to AI art, that's the problem.”
Despite the grim portrait these concerns may paint for the future of workers in the art industry, this technology is still extremely recent, and only time will show its true impact.