The Trial of AI: 1st Class Action Copyright Lawsuit filed against AI image generators Stability AI, Midjourney + Deviantart (Complaint in Sarah Andersen v. Stability AI Ltd)

Just as we predicted earlier this week, the lawsuits against AI’s reliance on copyrighted works in generating AI works has officially started.

Through the Joseph Saveri Law Firm, artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz have filed a class action copyright lawsuit in the Northern District of California against Stability AI Ltd., Midjourney, Inc. and DeviantArt.

The Complaint (which you can download below) asserts that the defendants used the works of the plaintiffs without licenses to train AI through machine learning to enable their users to create new AI-generated works, some of which constitute unauthorized derivative works from the plaintiffs’ works.

We predicted these issues would be raised in a lawsuit in our fictitious example of ChatGPT creating a rap “in the style of Snoop Dogg.” But we had no idea this lawsuit would be filed less than 24 hours later!

Copyright and Other Claims

The theory of the case is straightforward:

Count I Direct Infringement: AI allegedly used copyrighted works without permission during (1) machine learning by copying and analyzing the works. and Count II Vicarious Infringement: AI allegedly created derivative works by their users, including “in the style of artists,” based on their copyrighted works: “Individuals have used AI Image Products to create works using the names of Plaintiffs and the Class in prompts and passed those works off as original works by the artist whose name was used in the prompt. Such individuals are referred to herein as ‘Imposters’ By using a particular artist’s name, Imposters can cause the AI Image Product to rely more heavily on that artist’s prior works to create images that can pass as original works by that artist. These output images are referred to herein as ‘Fakes.’”

The Complaint also alleges violations of the DMCA by removing the Copyright Management Information (CMI) in the works (Count III DMCA Violations), infringement of the right of publicity (Counts IV, V), and other state law claims.

The Complaint alleges that the defendants have the following businesses:

Stable Diffusion’s AI image creator: In August 2022, the same month that Stable Diffusion was released, Stability released DreamStudio ( DreamStudio is a web-server-based AI Image Product through which users can generate images with Text Prompts. DreamStudio relies on Stable Diffusion as its underlying Software Library, meaning that DreamStudio relies on Stable Diffusion to generate images from Text Prompts.

Midjourney’s AI image creator: Midjourney launched an open beta of the first public version of its Midjourney Product on July 12, 2022. Since then, it has released Versions 2 and 3, and, most recently, an alpha iteration of Version 4.

DeviantArt’s AI image creator: In November 2022, DeviantArt released DreamUp ( Like Stability’s DreamStudio, DreamUp is a web-based app that generates images in response to Text Prompts. Like DreamStudio, DreamUp relies on Stability’s Stable Diffusion software as its underlying software engine.

This is the first class-action copyright lawsuit against AI generative works. But it won’t be the last. Buckle up.

UDPATE: We offer preliminary thoughts on the first two copyright claims in a subsequent article–click here.

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