Getty Image's announcement of legal proceedings against Stability AI follows a class action lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt filed by several artists and stakeholders. (image by Alice Adler via Getty Images)

Getty Images says it has started legal proceedings against Stability AI, the company behind the generative AI art tool Stable Diffusion. In a statement on Tuesday, January 17, the stock photo company alleged that Stability AI infringed on Getty’s intellectual property rights.

Stability AI used “millions of images protected by copyright and the associated metadata owned or represented by Getty Images” to train their software without proper licensing, reads the statement, shared with Hyperallergic. Getty argues that the artificial intelligence tool does not respect the rights of its content creators.

Getty Images CEO Craig Peters told the Verge that the company issued Stability AI a “letter before action” in advance of pending legal action in the United Kingdom. However, a Stability AI representative told Hyperallergic that they have not been served any documents. “Please know that we take these matters seriously. It is unusual that we have been informed about this intended legal action via the press … Should we receive them, we will comment appropriately,” the spokesperson said.

The news comes only days after a class action lawsuit was filed against Stability AI as well as Midjourney and DeviantArt, both of which use Stable Diffusion, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Plaintiffs including artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, Karla Ortiz, and “a class of other artists and stakeholders” accuse the platforms of “direct copyright infringement” and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects media including visual art from online theft. Stable Diffusion, they argue, is trained on “billions of copyrighted images” from a dataset known as LAION-5B, which were “downloaded and used without compensation or consent from the artists.”   

“AI image products are not just an infringement of artists’ rights; whether they aim to or not, these products will eliminate ‘artist’ as a viable career path,” the complaint reads.  

According to a statement by Matthew Butterick, a litigator on the lawsuit, “even assum­ing nom­i­nal dam­ages of $1 per image, the value of this mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion would be roughly $5 bil­lion.” (For context, he writes that the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has an estimated value of $500 million.)

Last September, Getty Images expressed similar concerns that generative AI platforms pose a risk to their photographers. The company banned the uploading and sale of AI-generated images, citing potential legal issues and questioning “the underlying imagery and metadata used to train these models.” And in December, members of ArtStation launched a protest again AI-generated art, prompting the platform to add a “NoAI” tag. Members worried about whether AI disrespected the labor they used in creating art by not fairly compensating artists when scraping their works.

The lawsuits and bans are an escalation of tension between artists, visual media companies, and generative AI platforms as concerns grow over whether the still-developing software will replace various careers within arts industries. 

Taylor Michael is a former Hyperallergic staff reporter. Previously, she worked as a public programs coordinator at the National Book Foundation. She received an MFA from Columbia University School of...