AI Art has been around for several decades. However, it is becoming more accessible with dozens of apps online and has been the subject of heated debate. First off, let’s establish what is Artificial Intelligence or AI art, or generative art. A computer program takes basic information, perhaps keywords, simple sketches, or a photo, and using computer algorithms and neural networks, it creates an image. One such site claims: “create beautiful imagery every time by removing the need to be an expert with a pencil, brush or Photoshop.” and “Stop paying for royalty-free photos when you can create the perfect image instantly.” These apps are actually using bots to go searching for art and photos online, download it, and save it on a database. There are a variety of databases used by these AI companies and are downloading art without the permission of the artist or the hosting site. Many pieces contain copyright symbols, the artist's signature, and even the watermark of large commercial photo sites, some look like snapshots that were copied from social media. So, we should stop paying for royalty-free photos, but pay these companies to steal photos from Stock photography sites and rehash them a little? I’m not a lawyer, but this sounds like copyright infringement to me. In the US, an artist always holds the copyright to their original work. Artists have the choice of selling the art outright or licensing their art. This is the way it is for photos, art, music, etc. The art world always worked that way and artists had the opportunity to monetize their own work. Social media sites now have fine print saying that they can use, reproduce, etc your artwork. Frankly, I think it is there to protect the site from liability, but It seems this has led the way for the world to think that if it is on the internet it is fair game to use. AI companies think it’s ok to take art from wherever they can get it and basically resell it, via their monthly fees. They rehash it into something else based on the keywords, charge their clients, and have licensing rules on the back end. I’ve read through several of these “licensing rules” and it is simply unbelievable.
They hold the copyright to anything they charge you to create and have the right to rehash, resell, etc.
They are selling the “art” as-is, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied, including, without limitation, any warranties or conditions of TITLE, NON-INFRINGEMENT, MERCHANTABILITY, or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. You are solely responsible for determining the appropriateness of using or redistributing the Assets and assume any risks associated with the use of the Services.” So if you use AI art, that contains my image, I recognize it and go after you for copyright, not the AI company that supplied it to you.
So basically, these companies, and many are US companies, are monetizing images they have taken without permission. And in addition, any art that has been purchased from them, is again, subject to being reused or rehashed in some way. Also, you are solely responsible if someone discovers you are using their image, after it was the AI database that took the image, and you have no idea where it came from.
A company named Spawning has developed a website, www.haveibeentrained.com, where artists can upload a photo of their work or fill in keywords (they say that images are not saved in any way) and see if any of their art appears on the database and where it was taken from. I found two paintings of mine, both taken from Fineartamerica.com, and both have my name as the artist. Spawning’s site gives artists the option to tag a piece to opt out of our art being used by the various databases for AI, which I did. I returned two weeks later, and my image has not been removed, but it has been tagged as opt-out.
So, beyond the copyright issue.... is this art? I worked for many years in advertising design, we used cheap clip art and stock photos. Not every ad is a national account with a huge budget for illustration, so if these companies were accessing media legally and ethically, I’d say AI would be a great source for advertising, social media posts, and maybe even a little extra money for artists. But it is not Art! Fine Art involves human inspiration and rendering skills that shouldn’t be confused with AI Art.
Artists shouldn’t fear putting their art on the internet. You can’t just create art, and keep it hidden somewhere! Online art shows have been very successful. Large commercial sites as well as local galleries and local art shows have been a great benefit to artists. Social media has been very successful for artists in sales and getting recognition for their work. Art theft can happen anywhere. I’ve had it happen in a local venue. It’s unfortunate but it happens. If everyone would respect artists’ work, and share it with credit given to the artist but NOT monetize on it, artists would benefit from the internet exposure.
Watermarking your art doesn’t seem to help! If you take a look at www.haveIbeentrained.com, you will find plenty of files that are watermarked by artists or large stock photo sites. When I looked online to find the best practices for watermarking artwork, I only found several software applications that will remove a watermark. In their small print, it states that you may not use the software to remove someone else’s watermark, but seriously, does the small print really mean anything?
Does this mean that all Digitally rendered art is AI? Absolutely NOT. I have painted digitally since the ’90s. My recent digital work is largely Procreate, created on my iPad. I start from a blank canvas, much like any artist working in traditional media, and use many of the same techniques. Since the early days of Photoshop, it was possible to “enhance” a photo with filters. Many photographers felt they were “turning it into a painting.” You can’t “turn something into a painting”. With digital manipulation, you can create some stunning effects, but it should be done with your own photo in order to be original.
My hope is that artists, arts organizations, and galleries will be able to educate people about the difference between original art and AI. Artists must be transparent about their media and methods and Art Shows must insist that all art accepted is original to the artist. Artists must be open to demonstrating and talking about their work. Personally, I demonstrate my art process at art shows and other events whenever I can. I recently learned that the Colorado State Fair picked an AI-generated image for first place in the digital art category this year, an image that was created in Mid-journey, (a San Francisco-based company) and then resized using AI Gigapixel. The “artist” claims it took hundreds of attempts to articulate and refine an ideal prompt to convey his idea, but this still does not compare to the artist who practices their drawing and painting skills and combines them with their unique vision to create something original.
Oxford Languages, the world’s leading dictionary publisher, defines original as “present or existing from the beginning: first or earliest”, and “created directly and personally by a particular artist: not a copy or imitation.” By the standards of that definition, Artificial Intelligence Art is not original art. When art is created directly and personally by a particular artist a bit of the heart and soul of the artist is present and hopefully, people will recognize this. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines creative: as “having the quality of something created rather than imitated: IMAGINATIVE.”
Perhaps someday, US Copyright Law will find a way to enforce copyright online. There are several groups who are working on this and in the meantime, we can only hope that people see the difference between AI art and Original Art.
Elaine Pawski is a teacher, freelance graphic designer, and photographer. She is an instructor at the Oregon School of Art, where she teaches digital painting, specifically, Procreate on the iPad. She is a member of the Society of Washington Artists, Mosaic Arts Alliance, and the Southwest Washington Watercolor Society. As a traditional and digital artist, she has been an educator and advocate for Digital Art. Here digital paintings and watercolors can be seen at Sweet Papaya Arts