Midjourney founder basically admits to copyright breaching and artists are angry

artificial intelligence
(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

The best AI image generators (opens in new tab) are taking the internet by storm, and not necessarily in a good way. Many artists and photographers are rightly furious at how these generators use datasets that contain hundreds of millions of artworks and photographs without consent from creators to train their AIs to create text-to-image results.

Fuel has been added to the fire recently in an interview that has emerged from September with Forbes and David Holz, the founder and CEO of Midjourney, whereby Holz openly admits that the company has based its AI on existing artworks and photographs without any consent from the creators of them.

We need to talk about the Midjourney Discord-based AI image generator (opens in new tab)

If you're not familiar with AI-image generators (opens in new tab) by now then it's time to get up to speed. These tools are growing in popularity as millions of people across the globe now have the power to create anything they can think of in no time at all. These generators may be fun in practice, but in principle, they are potentially damaging artists and photographers big time.

In an interview with Forbes (opens in new tab) back in September, David Holz, the founder of Midjourney – a powerful generator that uses the platform Discord and its chat servers to deliver images – admitted that open and published data sets are used to train the platforms AI generators and contains work from artists at all levels without their approval or consent, and with no way of opting-out of having it used. 

Many Twitter users (opens in new tab) and artists are outraged at the attitude of the CEO, being fully aware of using data sets containing millions of already existing artworks and images without consent, and showing no remorse in doing such.

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"It’s [the dataset] just a big scrape of the Internet. We use the open data sets that are published and train across those. I’d say that’s something that 100% of people do. We weren’t picky". Shares holz in the interview with Forbes.

This statement in particular is a red flag, as even Google is being cautious in filtering the data that its Imagen AI generator (opens in new tab) has access to, in the hope of avoiding any nudity, bias, and stereotyping around race, gender, age, and other issues when generating content. The fact that the Midjourney team "weren't picky" suggests that this data set has not been carefully curated and could be biased. 

When asked what the purpose of Midjourney is, the CEO responded, "The goal is to make humans more imaginative, not make imaginative machines, which I think is an important distinction." He continues, "There's no intention in the machine. And our intention has nothing to do with art. We want the world to be more imaginative and we would rather make beautiful things than ugly things."

It's important to emphasize that this is not about art. This is about imagination. Imagination is sometimes used for art but it's often not. Most of the images created on Midjourney aren’t being used professionally. They aren’t even being shared. They’re just being used for these other purposes, these very human needs.

David Holz, via Forbes

As these AI platforms learn and gain intelligence, able to generate extremely realistic images, they arguably become more of a threat to creative communities who hope to make a living. Who would pay for a graphic designer or illustrator for a new book cover if the author can now create one themselves for free? 

Even portrait photographers aren't safe, as MyHeritage (opens in new tab) can transform selfies into masterpieces in just 30 minutes. When people refer to supporting local businesses as a goodwill or charity gesture, that may soon include photographers and artists.

A website called Have I Been Trained (opens in new tab) has been created, as PetaPixel has cleverly spotted (opens in new tab), that allows photographers to uncover the truth and find out if their copyrighted photos have been used to train AI image generators.

There isn’t really a way to get a hundred million images and know where they’re coming from. It would be cool if images had metadata embedded in them about the copyright owner or something. But that's not a thing; there's not a registry. There’s no way to find a picture on the Internet, and then automatically trace it to an owner and then have any way of doing anything to authenticate it."

David Holz, via Forbes

Holz may be claiming that the platform is intended purely for inspirational purposes and to bring ideas to life, but the ignorance surrounding the assumption that it isn't primarily being used as a way to rip off and steal works and commission jobs from other artists is very disappointing, to put it politely.

The CEO/Founder suggests that his hands are tied in how the dataset sources content is also fibbery, as previously mentioned, other platforms who are developing AI image-generators are aware of the potential dangers and misuse, therefore have been adjusting the datasets accordingly and filtering sources. Also, has he never heard of Image meta-data (opens in new tab) before? 

Let us know what you think about these statements from David Holz, do you share the same rage as other artists and photographers on the subject?

You may also be interested in the best noise reduction software (opens in new tab), as well as our review of the Topaz Labs DeNoise AI (opens in new tab) and Topaz Labs Sharpen AI (opens in new tab)software, and the Top 10 AI tools in Photoshop (opens in new tab)

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.