To be clear right from the outset: if you have to use generative models to keep your job or otherwise have no choice in the matter, then obviously you aren’t being a dick. Your bosses are, however, absolute dicks.
Being a dick isn’t illegal
Many in tech seem to think that if you disagree with something that tech companies are doing, you must think that it’s illegal or should be illegal.
I think LLMs and diffusion models are unfair and that making or using one is a dick move, but are they illegal copyright violations of the training data?
I have no idea. I am not a lawyer. What I do know is that the repercussions if they aren’t legal would be much wider ranging than most realise. It would put a question mark over a much wider range of behaviours than you’d expect and could have an impact on both media and software industries.
AI companies should still be sued left, right, and centre for training ML models on copyrighted data without permission, but that’s because there’s no other way in the US to properly clarify how copyright applies to the situation.
US legislative bodies are seriously dysfunctional and only going to get worse so the only way we’re going to get answers on the relationship between AI and copyright is if there are lawsuits from every angle. Clarity is essential for us to establish the “rules of the game” so to speak. Lack of clarity makes “AI” breeding ground for scammers and grifters of all kind.
That being said.
Even though I think it’s likely that the way these models use training data will eventually be thought of as fair use, I still think that anybody who makes them or uses them today is being a dick.
This is a personal opinion, not a legal or expert one.
Fine arts is and was full of dicks
There is a precedent here, believe it or not, in fine arts.
People who are profiting from existing generative models are behaving much like the artists Lichtenstein and Erró. They were artists who went over the line in “borrowing” and appropriated the work of underpaid artists in the comics world, traced individual panels from comic and presented them as artworks that sold for millions, and never paid any of that to the original artists and instead behaved with a general disdain towards the work that made them rich and famous.
Those who made that work got the privilege of growing old in near poverty.
(Russ Heath made a comic about the experience of having his work stolen by Lichtenstein which you included in his obit on Comics Beat.)
This is and was completely legal. Moreover, it has to remain legal, and it’s likely that most of the comics artists whose work was stolen would agree. Banning this kind of parody, satire, and commentary would cripple both fine arts and the media industry. It’s impossible to draw a line that ensures that everybody is properly compensated without stifling freedom of expression.
Completely legal. No repercussions. But still a dick move.
That’s the AI industry and its customers in a nutshell.
Because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean you can do it without repercussions. In this case, the consequences are very much on the mild side: if you use LLMs or diffusion models, a relatively small group of mostly mid- to low-income people who are largely underdogs in their respective fields will think you’re a dick.
That’s something you’ll just have to accept as a fact.