If you’ve spent any time on social media recently, you’ll have noticed the often-heated discussions around AI. Some vilify it, while others call it the best thing to happen to humanity since the invention of the wheel. Discussions on the uses and ethics of AI are still in their infancy as we try to understand the implications of technology on our lives.
Recently, two giants of stock image subscription services, Shutterstock and Getty Images, have taken very different stands on their approach to the use of AI.
So what implications do their actions have on the future use of AI? Will it be a tool for empowerment or a source of fear and mistrust?
Join us as we delve deep into the contrasting approaches of these industry giants and explore the ramifications for the future of AI.
What Do We Mean When We Talk About AI?
Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short, is an all-encompassing term covering a suite of technologies that aim to automate tasks that typically need a human being to complete. From copywriting to producing images from a text prompt, AI is everywhere.
The Differing Approaches to AI by Shutterstock and Getty Images
Shutterstock and OpenAI
Shutterstock operates on a subscription basis, allowing those who subscribe to download an unlimited quantity of video, images and music for their own use. In October 2022, they announced that they were expanding their partnership with OpenAI, with their text-to-image product DALL-E 2 being directly integrated into the Shutterstock service.
Concurrent with this integration, Shutterstock is launching a fund to provide content creators with compensation for using their images. Social media sites, such as YouTube, have been operating this model for years, with many content creators making a good living from producing content for those platforms.
It’s hardly surprising then that Shutterstock has decided to follow this route. By providing compensation to those who create content, they provide an incentive for people to continue to use their service and receive compensation for doing so. It’s a genius move: pay creators, combine that with AI-fueled image creation tools, and you’ve essentially guaranteed a steady flow of new images that can be monetized. Whether this affects the quality of what’s produced, though, remains to be seen.
Many also consider it a savvy move for another reason. AI services like DALL-E 2 can produce images from text prompts with ease, meaning they’re a threat to the current business model of stock image services like Shutterstock. Pivoting their business to take advantage of the AI tool has helped Shutterstock secure its future survival.
Getty Images and Stability AI
Compare and contrast the Shutterstock situation with what’s happening with Getty Images, which is currently suing Stability AI. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Getty has taken a stand in direct opposition to Shutterstock, but closer analysis reveals this is not the case.
Getty is suing Stability AI in the U.K. as they allege in a recent press statement that:
“Stability AI infringed intellectual property rights including copyright in content owned or represented by Getty Images. It is Getty Images’ position that Stability AI unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright and the associated metadata owned or represented by Getty Images absent a license to benefit Stability AI’s commercial interests and to the detriment of the content creators.”
Technology developments move at such a fast pace that it’s not surprising that company policy and the law struggle to keep up. In the U.S., scraping or buying data to develop AI tools appears to be legal; however, in other jurisdictions like the U.K., the situation is less clear. In fact, questions over the copyright of AI-generated images have prompted Shutterstock to ban the uploading of AI-generated images from third parties. Currently, we just don’t have the technology or legal framework to determine how an AI tool constructs an image and, therefore, where copyright should be attributed.
This is all to say that Shutterstock has taken bold steps to control the situation and use AI to its advantage. We suspect that should they discover another service using their images to prompt a third-party AI tool, they would take similar steps to Getty.
So, What Is the Future of AI Image Generation Tools?
AI tools are here to stay, and we’re going to see their use developed in new and innovative ways.
The actions of Shutterstock and Getty Images are two sides of the same coin. Ignoring AI is not the answer. Ignoring new developments in an industry is a guaranteed way to destroy a business sooner rather than later. The challenge for society is how we use these tools responsibly.
The future beckons that if we want businesses — and people — to grow, we need to embrace technology. This does, of course, pose questions of ethics around how we use these tools. We need to keep our minds open and continue to discuss how society and businesses can use AI to benefit everyone and not just line the pockets of a few.
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