Getty Images is suing the creators of an AI tool for unlawfully scraping “millions of images”

The lawsuit follows ongoing concerns within the creative industry on the practices of AI companies.

18 January 2023

Getty Images has announced it is suing Stability AI, the makers of Stable Diffusion – an AI tool which “empowers billions of people to create stunning art within seconds”, its website states. A statement from Getty Images (released 17 January) says that Stability AI allegedly copied and processed millions of images without a licence, in violation of the visual media company’s copyright.

In the past, Getty Images has shown support for AI systems, believing it has the potential to “stimulate creative endeavours”, the statement states. It also reveals Getty Images has provided licences to leading technology innovators for purposes related to artificial intelligence training “in a manner that respects personal and intellectual property rights”. Getty Images says Stability AI didn’t seek a similar licence from the visual media company. Getty surmises: “We believe, [Stability AI] chose to ignore viable licensing options and long‑standing legal protections in pursuit of their stand‑alone commercial interests”, to the detriment of Getty’s content creators.

The creative industry is becoming more familiar with AI tools like Stable Diffusion, which is a text-to-image diffusion model, “capable of generating photo-realistic images given any text input”, according to its site. A copy of the Stable Diffusion model was used to create Lensa, the app that made headlines late last year for its viral Magic Avatars feature. During the rise of Lensa, many creatives shared concerns over image scraping.

In a recent interview with The Verge, Getty Images CEO Craig Peters shared more on the aim of the lawsuit. “I don’t think it’s about damages and it’s not about stopping the distribution of this technology. I think there are ways of building generative models that respect intellectual property. I equate [this to] Napster and Spotify. Spotify negotiated with intellectual property rights holders – labels and artists – to create a service. You can debate over whether they’re fairly compensated in that or not, but it’s a negotiation based of the rights of individuals and entities. And that’s what we’re looking for, rather than a singular entity benefiting of the backs of others. That’s the long term goal of this action.”

On Twitter, Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque recently spoke about how the company uses image sourcing for training: “I believe they are ethically, morally and legally sourced and used. Some folks disagree so we are doing opt out and alternate datasets/models that are fully cc.”

As of 17 January, Getty Images had commenced legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice in London against Stability AI claiming Stability AI infringed intellectual property rights including copyright in content owned or represented by Getty Images.

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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