The Lawsuit Against AI for Intellectual Property Theft. 5 Billion Images Used Without Artists' Permission. (Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt)

The Lawsuit Against AI for Intellectual Property Theft. 5 Billion Images Used Without Artists' Permission. (Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt)
Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing field with the potential to revolutionize many aspects of our lives. But as AI becomes more commonplace, so too have the legal implications of its use.

This week, legal scholar Matthew Butterick has filed a $5 billion class action suit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt for violations of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Right of Publicity, Unlawful Competition and Breach of Terms of Service.

The suit alleges that these companies used 5 billion images belonging to artists without their permission or knowledge. This is not the first time AI has been taken to court over copyright issues, but this case could set an important precedent for digital rights in the future.

Who is suing Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt?

A trio of artists - Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz - have decided to take legal action against Stability AI and Midjourney and DreamUp, coming directly from the owners of DeviantArt.

The artists believe that the organizations have violated the rights of "millions of artists" by training artificial intelligence on images downloaded from the web without the permission of their owners.

In May 2021, Matthew Butterick, an artist and author of "Practical Typography," has filed a class action lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt for DMCA violations, right of publicity violations, unlawful competition, and breach of TOS.

"AI needs to be fair and ethical for everyone," said lawyer/programmer Matthew Butterick.

Butterick's complaint alleges that the defendants "engaged in mass copyright infringement by scraping and downloading over a billion images from the internet without the artists' permission."

typing on a mac!
Photo by Thomas Lefebvre / Unsplash

What is the lawsuit against AI about?

Stability AI, creators of popular AI art tool Stable Diffusion, is being sued by Getty Images for alleged copyright violations.

Stability AI "unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright" to train its software, according to a press release shared with The Verge. Getty Images has filed a lawsuit against Stability AI in the High Court of Justice in London.

The Verge quoted Getty Images CEO Craig Peters as saying that the company has sent Stability AI a "letter before action," a formal notification of impending litigation in the UK.

Peters pointed out that Stability AI has utilized the intellectual property of others without obtaining permission or making any effort to compensate them, solely for their own financial gain. This does not meet accepted standards of fair dealing in the UK or fair use in the US.

Therefore, Getty Images is taking action to protect their and their contributors' rights to their intellectual property.

Hard at work
Photo by Trent Erwin / Unsplash

Upon being contacted by The Verge, Angela Pontarolo, a press representative for Stability AI, said the company had not received information about the lawsuit.

The landmark lawsuit filed last weekend by three artists is the latest chapter in the growing litigation between AI firms and content creators. AI art tools such as Stable Diffusion use human-generated images for training data, which companies obtain from the web without allowing creators to know or give their assent.

While AI companies maintain that their activities are covered under laws like fair use in the US, creative rights holders disagree, believing it represents an infringement of copyright. Legal specialists disagree on the matter but agree that it has to be decided by a court.

While the developers of some AI image creation tools (like OpenAI) refuse to disclose the data used to create their models, Stable Diffusion's training dataset is open source. The dataset contains a significant number of stock images from Getty Images and other sites, and the presence of Getty Images is evident in the AI software's tendency to replicate that company's watermark.

About Matthew Butterick

Matthew Butterick is the attorney who is representing the plaintiffs in the case. He is known for his high-profile crackdown against Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI.

- "But Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt are appropriating the work of thousands of artists with no consent, no credit, and no compensation. As a lawyer who is also a longtime member of the visual-arts community, it's a pleasure to stand up on behalf of fellow artists and continue this essential conversation about how we the people want AI to coexist with human culture and creativity." - said lawyer/programmer Matthew Butterick.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages and an injunction against the defendants.

This is a shot of the owner of New Zealand watch company - Hunters Race.
Photo by Hunters Race / Unsplash

What are the specific claims being made in the lawsuit?

The lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt alleges that the defendants unlawfully used billions of images without the artists' permission.

The suit also claims that the defendants violated the artists' right of publicity and engaged in unlawful competition.

The specific claims being made in the lawsuit are that Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), right of publicity laws, unlawful competition laws, and/or their own terms of service.

The plaintiffs allege that these companies have used billions of images without the artists' permission, resulting in damages to the artists.

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro / Unsplash

How could this lawsuit impact the use of AI in the future?

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is currently being sued for billions of images that were used without the artists' permission. This could potentially greatly impact the future use of AI and the companies who develop and utilize it.

If found guilty, Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt could be forced to pay damages to the artists involved. This would likely set a precedent for other companies who use AI, and could lead to more lawsuits in the future.

Additionally, it is possible that this lawsuit could result in stricter regulation of AI or even a ban on its use altogether.

Photo by Conny Schneider / Unsplash


This class action lawsuit against Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt is a timely reminder that not all tech companies are acting within the law when it comes to using images or other pieces of content without permission.

It's important for us all to be aware of our rights as creators and understand our options if someone uses our work without permission. We must take steps to protect our works from being used unlawfully and continue to fight against this kind of unethical behavior in the digital age.