Generative AI Art, Backlash and Copyright, on Doha Debates

Generative AI art.

A new podcast dropping Tuesday, September 5th 2023 from Doha Debates, will feature US-based artist Jason M. Allen who received international attention after winning first prize at the Colorado State Air Fair for his Generative AI art piece Théâtre D’opéra Spatial in 2022. The work, which depicts a futuristic opera being performed on a theatre set in space, was created using MidJourney; Allen entered a text prompt, and then upscaled the image using Gigapixel AI.

In the upcoming podcast, a production of Doha Debates and Foreign Policy magazine, Allen explains how AI plays a key role in art for emerging artists today. Allen said, “I grew up drawing and painting. I’m a creative person. [But] I never pursued it as a career. It was more like a hobby. I chose to use MidJourney to create my work… It’s a technology that’s powerful enough to democratize the art-making process and put it in the hands of anyone who wants it.”

He also describes creating his artwork that was shown at the Colorado State Art Fair.

“It was a long iterative process,” Allen said. “I spent 80 plus hours to arrive at Théâtre D’opéra Spatial. I have thousands of space opera theater images, you realize. There are so many more like this that I haven’t shared and a lot of that is due to the fact that I can’t protect my work. I’m being left with no recourse because the U.S. Copyright Office believes that I didn’t create this work.”

“I’ve had nothing but the most positive experience using MidJourney. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing of all the different platforms out there, and I’ve tried a lot of them.” He noted, “[Théâtre D’opéra Spatial] is the exact type of aesthetic and emotion I was trying to evoke; this grand, opera-type stage where I’m using concepts like anachronism, pareidolia and nostalgia to make it so your eyes can’t look away.”

Allen addressed the legal battles he is still facing to own the rights to this work. “We’re the tip of the spear in the copyright battle right now. Our first reconsideration was denied, but we got that response and now our second request is pending. If they deny this request again, for the copyright of Théâtre D’Opéra Spatial, we will be entered into the First District court.” He continued, “I’m now being faced with the challenge of how I am going to share my work, knowing that anybody can take it and use it however they want.”

The Doha Debates podcast comes as a wave of lawsuits have been filed against companies like Microsoft, Meta and OpenAI, over whether the companies have the right to train AI using artists’ copyrighted work.

Allen was joined on the podcast by New York-based artist and illustrator Molly Crabapple, who said, “Like most illustrators, I have been horrified by the profusion of product put out by these Generative AI companies. When we talk about image generators, like MidJourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion… we’re talking about companies that are funded by tens of billions of dollars, by some of the most malignant actors in Silicon Valley who scrape the internet for billions and billions of images – many of them copyrighted… They took these images, they used them without compensation, without consent, without even telling the creators.”

“The only reason any AI generator is good is because it was trained on billions and billions of stolen images,” Crabapple said. “What’s even worse, is that the purpose of these products is to deskill, disempower and to ultimately replace working artists. The products are good enough to spit out a somewhat soulless facsimile of the work of any artist that they’re trained on.”

Of AI’s potential for artists, Crabapple said, “I can’t create a painting in three minutes. No artist can create a painting in three minutes. No artist can live off creating stuff for free, forever. It’s not physically possible for any artist to compete off [AI] images.”

“It won’t matter that the images are good,” she concluded. “It will matter that they are cheap and fast. And no artist can work as cheap and fast as AI.”

The Doha Debates Podcast is a biweekly podcast that brings together people with starkly different opinions for an in-depth conversation that tries to find common ground. Doha Debates is a production of the Qatar Foundation.

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