The Copyright Debate in AI Art

The contentious issue of whether AI art generators violate copyright has taken a step forward to being settled in the U.S. today.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick, of the Northern District of California, today filed a decision in a copyright infringement class action lawsuit brought against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt.

The lawsuit was filed by three artists — Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz.

Orrick largely granted the motion to dismiss the copyright infringement case against the AI image generator companies. However, he allowed one count — for direct copyright infringement against Stability AI — to move forward.

Artists’ Complaint

“The Complaint is defective in numerous respects.”

Orrick explained why he found the artists’ complaint defective, noting issues such as the artists failing to file copyrights on their art and copyrighting only a fraction of the works cited in the complaint.

The artists had claimed that their images were included in the LAION open-source database, used by all three AI art generator programs to train. Orrick argues that not all images used for training were copyrighted, and that derivative theory copyright claims require “substantial similarity” to the original work.

However, Orrick invites the artists to amend their claims and refile a narrower lawsuit citing specifically infringed copyrighted images.

Judge Orrick’s Ruling

“The alleged infringer’s derivative work must still bear some similarity to the original work or contain the protected elements of the original work.”

AI image generators reference art by many different artists, making it difficult to prove that the resulting image solely or primarily references copyrighted art. Therefore, it is likely not infringing of the original work.

The ruling suggests that copyright claims in AI art require more specific allegations and substantial similarity to the original work to survive.

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