I was planning to write this post a bit later, once both law and my own views had settled more, but a self-appointed art policeperson forced my hand. I don’t believe in answering strangers’ probing questions online, but this is an important topic. So here you have them, my half-baked thoughts on the topic of generative ai.
Many folks have strong opinions about LLM generators. You know, the thing popularly called “ai art” – though I pedantically quibble that it’s neither intelligent nor art per se (it’s a mindless tool).
I believe the luddite approach—to proudly deny one could or would ever use these technologies in any way is doomed to failure. Whether or not such an ethical absolutist stance is correct, the economics of this technology will have its way.
And let’s be clear, the economics are astonishing. Textual ai tools can serve as powerful editors, reorder lists alphabetically, suggest processes, provide a sounding board for ideas, and more. Visual ai tools allow quick prototyping, testing compositions, generating character concepts, backgrounds, mood boards, expanding backgrounds, removing artifacts, and more. At the very least, they’re the equivalent of a free assistant.
Personally, I also think the new possibilities for generating surprising, unexpected, and never before seen assets, are quite astounding. The technology opens up the prospect of millions of people without the skill or ability or time to wield a brush to see their ideas visualized. It gives a person with a rudimentary grasp of a language the chance to turn their bullet points into poetry. I think this is wonderful.
However, I don’t think the assets generated by these programs are, in and of themselves, art. They may be images or texts or what have you. But, they are not art. To me, art requires sentient aesthetic creative action (I say sentient rather than human, because I do consider some examples of works by other animals and hominids to also be art and keep open the possibility of artificial sentience in the future being able to create art).
As such, I don’t think these assets can reasonably be either protected by copyright nor have much values as works on their own.
That said, the assets produced by these programs can be used to create art. From the very crude (a midjourney picture of a religious leader in a balenciaga jacket + a meme font) to the more sophisticated (composition tests, variations on an artists’ own existing works, collages materials, etc.). After all, du Champ could turn a urinal into a fountain. However, du Champ is also instructive: though one fountain became a urinal, the myriad other millions of urinals have remained urinals.
So, for example, one could assemble visuals generated by AI plus texts generated by AI into a cohesive book and own the rights to that book as an assembly of art and texts that tell a story as a collection in the same way they could own the rights to leaves picked up off the ground and clippings from a 200-year-old newspaper glued into a scrapbook to tell a story. However, neither the images nor the texts would be covered by copyright – that is, someone could copy such content verbatim so long as they did not assemble it in a largely identical manner.
Basically, the more human effort and creativity one applied to rework and refashion assets created by AI into something different and more, the stronger their claim to have made art would be.
In this, again, I am following pretty basic copyright law on compilations and minimum requirements. From the Berne convention (esp. art. 2.7.) onwards (and yes, also the US copyright office compendium on practices, esp. section 309).
On a personal note, I think the ethical thing to do is for people who use ai generated visuals as their finished product, to say so. Further, if they’re using ai to specifically copy another artist? That’s downright scammy if they’re doing it without crediting the original.
On the other hand, I don’t think ai generated visuals used as part of story boarding, generating ideas and concepts, trying out lighting and compositions, are very different from an artist leafing through a magazine or trawling pinterest, and hardly worth mentioning.
Come on Luka, easy words, would you buy “art” made by a human artist using AI generated assets?
If I thought it was good and well-made and surprising and I enjoyed what represented? Yeah. I would.
But, that’s honestly a high bar.
So, would you buy a poster of a picture generated by AI? No text, nothing else. Just a prompted piece?
If it really spoke to me and seeing it was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had and it was cheaper than just taking the file printing it myself? Yeah, I suppose.
Gotta keep an open mind, you know. Might get surprised. Who knows – the future is an alien country.
Ok, Luka, would you use AI art in the works you sell?
I think ai generative tools can be excellent tools when used correctly. They can boost productivity and creativity both, from help with editing to use a sounding board for testing ideas. I also think ai generators can be great fun as simple play, with no end goal in mind. They’re quite excellent on the fly when you’re running a roleplaying game on discord and need a quick face to pin to a character.
However, I take immense pride in the craft and personal creativity I put into my published work and I wouldn’t put my name to words that I had not personally typed nor to art that I had not personally drawn. The layout I might outsource to a better graphic designer at some point.
I’ve never, nor do I intend to, sell works created by other entities – whether human or machine – under my own name.
Luka, why wouldn’t you just say this when I demanded you say so on [social medium]?
It’s tempting in the age of social media and parasocial relationships to simply demand answers from strangers. This is a temptation that we would all do well to resist.
*Let’s leave aside my willingness to grant copyright to any sentient organism. Likewise, my pedantic quibbles on definitions of art and intelligence. All those are currently and practically irrelevant. Pace.
Usually I’d have a small paragraph here about joining my patreon, but this time I’m just going to invite you to make art with any and every tool you can find. Go on. Give your sentience free creative reign.