Getty Images is suing the creators of an artificial-intelligence image-creation program.
The agency, which sells the rights to use the images of photographers and illustrators, claimed that Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion technology infringed on these.
By analyzing human-made images, including photos accessible online, AI image generators “learn” to make images from basic text instructions.
Many artists and photographers claim that their work is being used without their permission.
Some artists see image generators as a wonderful tool for creative expression, but many others are concerned that they can effectively replicate their style and utilize it to make images in seconds.
“This thing wants our jobs – it’s actively anti-artist,” one wrote in a viral tweet.
Emad Mostaque, founder of Stability AI, previously told BBC News that Stable Diffusion is trained using a compressed file containing “100,000GB of photos” gathered from the internet. He has also mentioned developing tools to allow artists and creators to opt out.
Researchers previously discovered content sourced from Getty Images. The agency has now stated that legal proceedings have begun in the High Court in London.
“Stability AI unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright… to the detriment of the content creators” and “chose to ignore viable licensing options and long‑standing legal protections”, Getty alleges.
Chief executive Craig Peters told BBC News Stability AI’s use of work on Getty Images was not “supported by the law and we believe content owners should have a say in how their work is used”.
“This is not a statement against generative models,” he said. “Instead, we believe it is a responsible and legal path to produce such models.”
A Stability AI representative told BBC News it took these matters seriously but said: “It is unusual that we have been informed about this intended legal action via the press. We are still awaiting the service of any documents. Should we receive them, we will comment appropriately.”
Picsel, a collection agency that works to ensure creators are paid fairly when their work is copied, has previously warned of the risks to photographers’ and photo agencies’ livelihoods.
“Imagine a photo-agency website being scraped for content to produce AI-derived images which are then sold in competition to that agency’s content,” chief executive Paul Seheult told BBC News in September.
Three artists are also bringing a class-action case against Stability AI, and two other defendants, in California.
Stable Diffusion is “merely a complex collage tool”, they allege, trained using “countless copyrighted images” and they are trying to protect artists from “this blatant and enormous infringement of their rights, before their professions are eliminated by a computer program powered entirely by their hard work”.
But a Stability AI representative told BBC News: “Anyone that believes that this isn’t fair use does not understand the technology and misunderstands the law.”
The cases will be watched closely by lawyers with an interest in AI.
Patrick Goold, a reader in law at City, University of London, said of the US case: “For hundreds of years, human artists learned by copying the art of their predecessors.
Furthermore, at no point in history has the law sanctioned artists for copying merely an artistic style.
“The question before the US courts today is whether to abandon these long-held principles in relation to AI-generated images”.