The ethics of AI art has become a hot topic. I want to weigh in because some of the things people say show how little they understand intellectual property rights, let alone creativity. TL;DR: AI is a tool, just like Photoshop. It's not any different—the creator is still the creator—that is the person using the tool.
First, I want you to consider a few situations:
- Somebody studies a bunch of pictures, then draws something similar to all of those pictures. Did they steal the original art? Did the original art somehow lose value for having been viewed and used to inspire this person?
- This same person studies the precise strokes used by a painting master and creates a nearly exact replica of an original work—is this a violation of the original work?
Now in both of these scenarios, switch "Somebody" with "An AI," and you'll have the same answers. #1 - NO, and #2 - YES.
People have been observing others' art since the first hand was slapped on a cave wall in red dust. The nature of art is to be observed!
And I hate to break it to you, but people then are influenced by what they see, and if they are also artists, those influences affect their future art. That's how we work as humans.
People think that AI is different.
What if I wrote a plugin that directed Photoshop to generate random lines based on a user's inputs? Is the resulting work owned by Photoshop when a user runs the plugin? Or Adobe? Or perhaps the person using the tool?
AI is no different.
Stop making this a big deal, people.
Recently somebody posted a bunch of images of Mickey Mouse that they used AI to generate and claimed that it's magically immune to copyright problems (doesn't even talk about trademark). Unfortunately, they have no idea how this works. Would they feel similarly invulnerable if they had drawn the same images with Photoshop and posted them? Are they going to blame Photoshop for creating the art when the intelelctual property holder comes knocking? Or are they—the person who created the art and posted it—the liable one?
Consider the picture at the heading of this article. I created it on Midjourney. Midjourney did not create it. I DID. I used the tool of Midjourney in its creation, of course.
Did creating this picture, similar to what Van Gogh painted long ago, somehow diminish his original work? Is it any different than if I'd spent the time drawing it by hand? No, it's not.
This is how modernization works, people. Technology makes things easier.
AI is a great tool, but it's just that: A tool. You can use it as an artist to elevate your final works, or you can rail against it, throwing your wooden shoes into the industrial machinery and hoping it will stop the relentless momentum of progress.
Let me know how well that works out for you. I expect it'll be similar to those railing against the industrial machines of prior centuries.
Having used these tools myself, I think they are great tools that can help an artist immensely, especially during the ideation phase of creating something. At times, it takes hundreds of samples to come up with something even moderately usable in AI art, and even then, the art is always better once a human steps in and amplifies it.
If you are worried about AI art, the reality is you aren't worried about the machine taking over. You are worried about change because change is scary.
In the end, the idea of AI art and intellectual property is no different than any other art. If you create something too similar to somebody else's work, you run into problems. Regardless of the tool you use. Similarly, having an AI look at art as reference material doesn't take away from the value of that original art any more than a human looking at it does.