AI Makes Copyright Joker Image, Is The AI Art Boom Over?

By Zack Zagranis | Published

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AI may have just displayed its most human trait yet: laziness. A recent prompt given to AI image generator Midjourney produced a copyrighted image of the Joker rather than something of its own creation. Now the question is, will this new development be enough to stem the tide of AI-generated art that’s taking over the internet?

The AI Joker

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Reid Southern, a movie concept artist working out of Michigan, recently tried an AI image generator for the first time and was immediately intrigued by the generator’s ability to generate whole pictures from just a few simple text prompts. Southern soon found that most of the popular AI systems are trained using other people’s artwork and decided to see if they could be tricked into violating copyright by recreating an existing image exactly. Spoilers: they can.

Southern asked the AI image generator Midjourney to generate an image of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Within seconds, the AI produced an image that replicated a frame from the 2019 film Joker. Southern later teamed up with Gary Marcus, a professor emeritus at New York University and A.I. expert, to conduct even more experiments.

It Doesn’t Stop With Joker

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Marcus suggested getting rid of copyrighted references in the prompts and then seeing if they could produce the same results. Southern tried the prompt “Videogame hedgehog,” and the result was a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog. A prompt of “Animated toys” produced an image featuring the cast of Toy Story. Even a prompt as vague as “popular movie screencap,” resulted in a picture of Iron Man that looked like it was ripped straight from an MCU movie.

“What they’re doing is clear evidence of exploitation and using I.P. that they don’t have licenses to,” said Southern in reference to AI’s use of copywritten material.

Copyright Infringement?

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The above tests were replicated by others, including reporters at The New York Times, with similar results. The results raise questions about the training data used by AI and whether it constitutes copyright infringement.

Creatives Aren’t Happy With AI

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AI trained on copywritten images has been the bane of artists ever since popular sites like Midjourney and ChatGPT started to gain popularity. The big fear has always been that these AI models would get so good at generating images they would start to replace traditional artists. This new AI-generated Joker image just proves that those fears have merit.

Celebrities like actor Sarah Silverman and author John Grisham have already attempted to sue the owners of AI systems like the one that created the Joker picture. The New York Times has even gone as far as to sue OpenAI and the company’s finance Microsoft over copyright infringement of its news content. In turn, AI companies claim that their use of copyrighted material is protected under fair use law.

What Will Happen Next?

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The owners of these AI systems also maintain that when a copyrighted image, like Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, is reproduced by AI, it’s a bug and not a feature. The bug, sometimes called “memorization,” happens when training data is overwhelmed with identical images. Essentially, their claim is that when someone types in “Videogame hedgehog,” the majority of images that Midjourney will sift through will be of Sonic the Hedgehog, so naturally, that’s what the AI will draw.

Whether or not these new developments will slow down the inevitable AI world takeover remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, though: when Joker 2 comes out, we’ll be looking closely to see if Joaquin Phoneix has the right amount of fingers, just in case.

Source: The New York Times