"Church Scene" by Grzegorz Rutkowski, one of many images being used by AI to generate knockoffs (all images courtesy the artist)

Most artists are eager for the kind of name recognition that makes them a desirable and easily web-searchable entity — but for Polish digital illustrator Grzegorz Rutkowski, use of his own name has spun wildly out of his control. The advent of AI-powered text-to-image programs that are sweeping the market has led to an avalanche of rip-off artworks that have used his name and style as a prompt.

Rutkowski uses classic imagery to create fantasy landscapes for games including Sony’s Horizon Forbidden West, Ubisoft’s Anno, Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic: The Gathering. Since the debut of open-source AI generators such as Stable Diffusion, “Grzegorz Rutkowski” has been used as an image-generator prompt 93,000 times on that platform alone, according to statistics tracked by the website Lexica — a total that eclipses Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci by an order of magnitude, per the MIT Technology Review. Users of AI generators are producing images based on Rutkowski’s art, causing a signal-to-noise problem whereby artworks falsely credited to the artist are drowning out his actual work in Internet searches. (Stable Diffusion has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.)

“Dragon Cave” by Grzegorz Rutkowski

The issue “has a few layers,” Rutkowski said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “First of all, AI generators/softwares are using names of artists as a reference or guide for the AI algorithm to follow a specific style without asking anyone for permission to use their works in the database,” he explained. “Second of all, we have a serious issue about collecting data without any legal regulations.”

He pointed to the California-based artist known as Lapine, who discovered private medical record photos taken by her doctor in 2013 within the LAION-5B image set, which lifts publicly available images on the web to create its cognitive network.

This obviously raises monumental issues surrounding privacy and consent — not to mention sticky notions of authorship and intellectual property that are affecting Rutkowski’s livelihood as an artist. In the world of Internet art, the rampant misuse of Rutkowski’s name is so notorious that it has become a prompt in and of itself, with Stable Diffusion user @DanDiplo using a filter to create a “portrait of Greg Rutkowski getting angry because everyone is stealing his art style.”

While Rutkowski concedes that technology can’t be stopped, he is using his experience to highlight the need for rules and boundaries that protect artists and other individuals from being exploited by technology’s voracious appetite. Stock image sites are also getting pulled into the fray, with Getty Images and others banning AI-generated imagery for sale, citing concerns over copyright issues, and other sites creating new parameters that seek to limit consumption of imagery fueled by AI’s tendency to indiscriminately grab anything it can.

“What is terrifying is that those AI art generators are using everything that they can collect on the Internet without any consent, violating copyrights,” Rutkowski told Hyperallergic. “There are also many possible consequences; massive data breaches [that] train AI without any regulations can lead to forgeries, frauds, and many other situations which won’t be able to distinguish from the original events because of the growth of AI.”

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...

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