News Media Today

A.I- generated art. A viable tool or a lawsuit waiting to happen?


Teddy bears on the moon. A cat wearing VR headsets. Homer Simpson in “The Blair Witch Project.”

It’s time for journalists to have a serious discussion about how good artificial intelligence has become at creating an image for just about any idea imaginable.

I come into this discussion a bit biased. I’m a cartoonist who has watched colleagues lose their jobs as newsroom budgets began to shrink and the importance of having an artist on staff became an unaffordable luxury. So the idea of a computer now creating a work of art that might take me several hours to produce feels like a punch in the face.

But that hasn’t prevented my social media feeds from being flooded by A.I.-generated caricatures and portraits that look like they were created by suped-up Photoshop filters. It’s also not like newsrooms haven’t already been using A.I.-written content to cover everything from real estate listings to high school sports.

In other words, the genie is out of the bottle and moving fast. It’s beyond time to understand what A.I.-generated art is and how newsrooms might be able to balance the use of this technology with legitimate concerns about the real human beings it might impact.

DALL-E is probably the most well-known A.I. image generation tool. Created by research firm OpenAI, the tool quickly went viral when unveiled last year, and a beta version was opened to 1 million users in July. DALL-E’s power is in its simplicity — all a user has to do is type in a few prompts, and the program will spit out images based on your parameters in less than a minute.

There’s an obvious benefit to art directors, especially in budget-conscious newsrooms that can’t afford to hire illustrators for most projects. 

Cosmopolitan editors used DALL-E (named after famed artist Salvador Dali and the cartoon robot from Pixar’s Wall-E) to create an image of a female astronaut in a purple-shaded suit strutting they say was created using the prompt, “wide-angle shot from below of a female astronaut with an athletic feminine body walking with swagger toward camera on Mars in an infinite universe, synthwave digital art.” It’s a striking work of art that obviously stood out on the newsstand, and it took the editors less than an hour to close.

DALL-E is hardly alone. The Economist used Midjourney’s A.I.-image generating tool on Discord to create an image for its magazine cover in June. Stability AI opted for an open-source release of its tool, Stable Diffusion, but added limits in November to make it harder to copy artists and generate NSFW images. There’s also Midjourney, Meta AI’s Make-A-Scene, and Craiyon, which is basically an open-source version of DALL-E.

Google also has its own A.I. image generator but has yet to release it publicly. Bloomberg reported that the tech giant is planning a slow rollout, with limited options available to users when it launches. So far, no date has been announced.

We are in the early days of these tools, and the flaws are easy enough to detect. A.I. image generators have obvious issues creating realistic images of people, often twisting and distorting hands and faces. Some of that is, by design, an attempt to prevent fake or pornographic images from flooding the internet. But the technology will also improve at an alarming pace — keep in mind that DALL-E has only been available in its current beta form for less than six months.

Things are moving so fast; pesky legal matters like copyright law haven’t been able to keep up.

Because they train their algorithms by scraping artwork from across the internet, including stock photo websites and personal art blogs, there are legitimate concerns that the new images created by A.I. might lead to a copyright challenge.

“DALL-E is trained on the creative work of countless artists, and so there’s a legitimate argument to be made that it is essentially laundering human creativity in some way for commercial product,” wrote The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel, who was widely criticized by artists and journalists after using A.I.-generated images of right-wing talk show host Alex Jones to illustrate one of his newsletters.

“What worries me about my scenario is that Midjourney was so easy to use, so readily accessible, and it solved a problem (abstracting Jones' image in a visually appealing way) that I didn’t have much time or incentive to pause and think it through,” Warzel wrote. “I can easily see others falling into this as I did.”

While creating new artwork adapted from something else would seem to fall under the “fair use” doctrine, it becomes something different when a company attempts to sell that derivative piece of work for a profit.

“If these models have been trained on the styles of living artists without licensing that work, there are copyright implications,” Daniela Braga, a member of the White House’s task force on A.I. policy, told Forbes.

Getty Images announced in September that it was banning AI-generated art over copyright concerns, mainly to prevent legal challenges while the law remains unsettled.

“There are real concerns with respect to the copyright of outputs from these models and unaddressed rights issues with respect to the imagery, the image metadata and those individuals contained within the imagery,” Getty Images CEO Craig Peters told The Verge.

Shutterstock is taking a different approach. The popular stock photo site is embracing A.I.-created content and will offer DALL-E’s text-to-image functionality to its audiences. Notably, as part of the announcement, Shutterstock said it will also compensate artists for the role “their content played in the development of this technology.”

“Shutterstock believes that AI-generated content is the cumulative effort of its contributing artists,” the company said in a statement, adding it “aims to compensate its contributors in the form of royalties when their intellectual property is used.”

With the unsettled legal and ethical questions surrounding them, the most significant use of these A.I.-generation tools might not be using them for a final piece of artwork but as a time-saving tool to brainstorm different ideas and approaches that a human being can tackle.

In a cover story about its A.I.-generated cover, Cosmopolitan’s Gloria Liu explained that the magazine’s editors worked with digital artist Karen X. Cheng to create the final image. Cheng ultimately knew what prompt to give and what adjustments to make to change the artwork from a technological oddity to a legitimate cover image.

But on Instagram, Cheng was also very aware of the distribution A.I.-powered tools like DALL-E will have — not just in the art community or in newsrooms, but across most of society. “With AI, we are about to enter a period of massive change in all fields, not just art,” digital artist Karen X. Cheng wrote on Instagram. “Many people will lose their jobs. At the same time, there will be an explosion of creativity and possibility and new jobs being created — many that we can't even imagine right now.”

Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher, where he writes about trends in digital media. He is also a digital editor and writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Reach him at


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