Getty Images files lawsuit against AI art generator over IP violations

In the past years, we have seen an increase in AI models that create new artworks based on existing content. But as these tools become more prominent, insufficient regulation leads to a growing number of unanswered legal questions regarding copyright and trademark infringement. The recent lawsuits against companies such as Stability AI by multiple visual media websites are likely to shape the future of AI-generated content.


Igor Demcak

Details of the case

In a lawsuit filed on February 3, visual media company Getty Images alleged that artificial intelligence company Stability AI, Inc., infringed on the company’s intellectual property (IP). Stability AI is an AI-driven visual art startup based in London that designs and implements an open AI tool to create images based on text input given. Founded in 2020 by Emad Mostaque, Stability AI claims to be the world’s first community-driven, open-source AI company. Stability AI uses an image-generating model called Stable Diffusion that uses AI to deliver computer-synthesised images in response to text prompts.

According to the lawsuit, Stability AI has copied more than 12 million photographs from Getty Images’ collection, along with the associated captions and metadata, without permission from or compensation to Getty Images, as part of its efforts to build a competing business. As part of this unlawful scheme, Stability AI has removed or altered Getty Images’ copyright management information, provided false copyright management information, and infringed Getty Images’ famous trademarks. 

The terms of use of Getty Images’ websites expressly prohibit unauthorised reproduction of the content for commercial purposes such as those undertaken by Stability AI. Without getting a Getty Images license, Stability AI used website content to train its Stable Diffusion model. Furthermore, the output generated by Stable Diffusion often contains a modified version of the Getty Images watermark, creating confusion as to the source of the images and falsely implying an association with Getty Images. As a result, the lawsuit outlines that Stability AI’s incorporation of Getty Images’ marks into “low quality, unappealing, or offensive images” dilutes those marks in further violation of federal and state trademark laws.

Stability also offers open-source versions of Stable Diffusion to third-party developers to access, use, and develop their own image-generating models. Getty Images finds that aspect especially problematic, stating in the lawsuit, “Those third parties benefit from Stability AI’s infringement on Getty Images and, in turn, Stability AI benefits from the widespread adoption of its model.” As a result, Getty Images lawyers have requested a jury trial and statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each infringed work.

Issues of brand reputation and IP infringement

The primary purpose of a brand is to distinguish the company's goods and services from those of its competitors. Customers believe that the brand offers the preferable features, images, or standards of quality at the right price. Trademark registration is a key step in protecting the company's intellectual property rights and the brand's reputation. With a registered trademark, business owners have legal means to protect distinctive brand assets, such as the company's name and logo, from any infringement attempts, ensuring that their image and reputation gained from the customers remain associated solely with the original brand.

Since its founding in 1995, Getty Images has been using its name and associated trademarks in commerce continuously in connection with the distribution, promotion, and marketing of its services and visual content, including the uses described above. Getty Images has used its name and trademarks exclusively and extensively in the United States, and its trademarks are widely recognized as representing the premium quality of visual content. Due to widespread infringement attempts connected with developing AI tools, in September, Getty Images announced it was banning AI-generated art from its platform due to concerns about copyright and trademark law. Now the visual media website rightfully exercises its intellectual property rights to take action against unauthorized usage of its content that could be detrimental to the brand's reputation.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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