As AI-generated art takes off, who does it really belong to?

EDINBURGH, Scotland – At first glance, the series of distorted clown faces in a collision of primary colors appear to be the work of a painter – with oily brushstrokes and smudged backgrounds the typical characteristics.

Yet the images displayed by Scottish artist Perry Jonsson on his tablet were actually created using artificial intelligence (AI), reflecting a growing trend in the art world.

He used a machine learning program, in which algorithms take a text prompt and analyze the data to produce thousands of images, before selecting and narrowing down his favourites.

“They’re a bit scary,” the 31-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation one August morning in an Edinburgh cafe not far from the hustle and bustle of the world’s biggest arts festival.

“But what I loved was the humanity shining through, and that’s what I was looking for – something that looked like a real artist could paint,” he said, adding that the AI allowed him to stretch creatively despite his lack of drawing ability.

A filmmaker by trade, Jonsson began his interest in AI-generated artwork this year and is one of a growing number of people in the creative sector experimenting with software that has sparked debate about the future of AI. art and the role of man in relation to the machine.

What started in the 1970s as artists tinkering with the possibilities of computer programming has grown into a booming business – with AI-generated pieces winning digital arts competitions and fetching huge sums at auction these last years.

The most famous example, ‘Edmond de Belamy’, a blurry portrait of a man in a black shirt and white collar sold at auction for $432,000 (£373,541) in 2018 – despite a presale estimate of $7,000 – $10,000.

However, advances in AI have fueled concerns about the ethical and legal implications of co-creating art with machines.

“It really is a wild west,” Jonsson said, adding that he tries to “stay above the board” when it comes to using copyrighted works. Still, he said it was unclear whether the data used by AI programs to create his works was royalty-free.

Some AI art generation tools track images and mimic styles using copyrighted works to create new artwork, causing artists to fear digital theft.

Copyright laws in the United States and European Union, for example, do not explicitly cover AI-generated art, leaving some artists to wonder whether AI will help or hinder creativity.

The increasing use of AI to produce magazine covers, posters or create logos, for example, also raises the thorny question of whether AI can – or will – eventually replace artists.

3D graphics artist and award-winning filmmaker David OReilly, writing on the matter, warned that “everyone who contributes to AI is accelerating their own automation”.

Human contact

A 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) study estimated that AI would destroy 85 million jobs by 2025, but also that the technology would create 97 million new ones across various industries.

From mechanical servers to humanoid health robots to the digital resurrection of deceased celebrities, the growing use of AI has raised complex issues of ethics, copyright and privacy.

Art is the latest sector to test the limits of law.

Stephen Thaler, the founder and CEO of Missouri-based technology company Imagination Engines Inc, was the subject of a copyright claim for computer-generated artwork that was rejected by the US Copyright Review Board in february.

The council said his work, which depicts an empty train track tunneling through a wall of purple flowers, “lacks the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim”.

Bernt Hugenholtz, professor of copyright law at the University of Amsterdam, said future lawsuits will depend on whether a person makes creative choices, which is a “very abstract test”.

If someone just presses a button or two to produce art, or gives a general text prompt like “create a picture of a monkey wearing a silly hat”, that’s not a creative act and the nobody can be the author under European copyright law. , he said.

However, if someone uses a very specific prompt, generates many images, selects from those images, and makes other changes, then that could warrant authorship, Hugenholtz added.

Copycat robots

Hugenholtz said he also sees potential for legal disputes when it comes to infringement of artistic styles and derivative works.

For a work to be considered copyrighted, the new creation must be sufficiently original.

Popular image-generating programs such as San Francisco-based OpenAI’s DALL-E have recently come under fire on this front.

These tools are trained using machine learning on huge datasets, with millions of images already created by human artists fed into the system to refine its outputs.

Some artists wonder if AI companies are being honest or even aware that copyrighted images are being used for this purpose.

When OpenAI in July allowed DALL-E users to use its generative art commercially and moved to a paid subscription service, artist OReilly criticized the move.

He called it a “scam” in an Instagram post, saying OpenAI was taking advantage of “large amounts of human creativity.”

OpenAI said the hundreds of millions of images in DALL-E training data were either licensed to the company or came from publicly available sources.

Additionally, the company says the images it creates should be copyrighted, and a spokesperson said it creates “unique and original images that have never existed before”.

However, OReilly said tech companies are exploiting legal uncertainty over copyright.

To ensure that artists benefit from their work, data used to improve algorithms should be publicly audited and artists should have a choice whether or not to contribute to their art, he added.

Help or evict?

Artist Jason Allen sparked controversy last week when he won the top prize at the Colorado State Fair in the United States with his AI-generated artwork Space Opera Theater, which depicts three humans silhouetted against a window golden.

Several artists expressed their anger on social media about the price, with some fearing for their livelihoods.

Jonsson said he thinks some artistic roles — such as storyboarding to make videos — will become automated.

“It’s only a matter of time,” he added.

However, fellow Edinburgh-based artist Alex Harwood said he was not threatened by AI tools. Although he experimented with them, the illustrator stressed that they could not replicate his work – or convey the emotion involved in the creative process.

“I think this is a moment in history where you have to decide whether to reject it (AI) and live on this side of the line, or accept it (as) how it’s going to be. from now on,” added Harwood. –

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