Getty Images, one of the world's largest providers of stock photos and illustrations, has recently filed a copyright claim in the UK High Court against Stability AI, the maker of a free image generating tool. This case is one of the first of its kind and, in the age of AI, marks a significant development in the battle between human artists and artificial intelligence companies. The case will also set a precedent on how the UK legal system will deal with intellectual property ownership for emerging artificial intelligence tools that can generate unique images and text.
Stability AI uses artificial intelligence to generate detailed images based on simple text instructions. Text to image AI models such as this are trained using billions of images taken from the internet. Getty Images, which holds more than 135 million copyrighted images in its archives, are claiming that Stability AI have infringed their copyright by using its images for training purposes without permission. Whilst Getty has in the past provided licences for use of its images to other AI companies for training their systems, it claims that Stability AI did not seek any such license.
The case will be watched closely by many businesses in the AI industry such as Open AI and Google. Ultimately, this case, should it proceed to trial, is likely to make clear the parameters within which AI tools are able to lawfully operate in when it comes to mining data.
The case also brings to light the tension between developing new technologies and existing rights holders. Indeed, in 2021, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) conducted a consultation on the relationship between IP and AI. In June 2022 the IPO set out its conclusions which included a proposal for a “a new copyright and database right exception which allows text and data mining for any purpose”. This proposed change to the law was recently criticised in a House of Lords report. The report stated that “the IPO’s proposed changes to intellectual property law are misguided” and “take insufficient account of the potential harm to the creative industries”.
This ongoing tension makes Getty’s lawsuit and the way in which the courts will approach the matter, an extremely significant stage in this developing saga.
Ultimately, the outcome of the Getty Images case in the UK could set the tone for how other regimes, including within the European Union, interpret the law.