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It is time to set a global standard on protecting artists and their work

A black woman with glasses and braids, wearing a red dress
Adelaide Damoah. Courtesy of the artist.

The results of a recent survey on AI and artists’ work reveal serious anxieties. Artist Adelaide Damoah calls on government to act to safeguard artists’ rights.

According to a UK Government White Paper published in March 2023, Britain has twice the number of companies providing AI products than any other European country. There is a transformative tide of AI sweeping the globe, and it will change many aspects of our lives and work forever. In the UK, the IT and telecoms sector is leading the charge in terms of adoption rates at 29.5 percent. Possibly falling into the category of ‘other’, in the paper, the creative sector is catching on, with artists increasingly having concerns about the preservation of their rights. A recent survey has revealed that the UK’s artistic community is harbouring serious anxieties regarding the unchecked proliferation of AI technologies.

The results of a survey conducted by DACS - ‘Artificial Intelligence and Artists' Work’ - were unveiled last month. Data collected from one thousand artists exposed a collective discomfort about AI's encroachment on creative rights and its potential to disrupt artists' careers. The majority of artists (74%) expressed alarm at the prospect of their work being used to train AI models without their consent or adequate financial compensation. These concerns strike a chord with larger concepts surrounding the convergence of technology, copyright, and the ethical use of artistic works.

In recent months, a group of artists instigated copyright lawsuits against AI companies including Midjourney, Runway AI and Stability AI, making their dissatisfaction evident in a US court of law. The stark findings released in the survey this week, underscore the urgency of the matter in the UK: 95% of artists insist on being consulted before their work is used for training AI models, 94% assert their entitlement to financial compensation for such usage and 89% of respondents advocate for governmental intervention in the form of safeguards and regulations concerning AI.

In 2022, The New York Times reported that AI-generated art won a prize in the digital category of the annual Colorado State Fair art competition.

In the same year, Cosmopolitan Magazine experimented with an AI-generated magazine cover. AI-generated artworks are fast gaining recognition, winning awards, and may soon be gracing magazine covers. As technology develops and grows exponentially, the question of artists' rights becomes increasingly pertinent. These concerns have sparked a growing demand for transparency in the training and utilisation of AI models, as well as for regulations that align with existing frameworks of copyright law.

The survey demonstrates a nuanced understanding among artists of AI's potential benefits and drawbacks. While acknowledging the potential of AI to democratise creativity and reduce operational costs, artists still uphold the sanctity of their work against unauthorised exploitation. 96% of respondents had not received formal AI training, highlighting a gap in professional development and adaptation to evolving market trends and potential demands.

Beyond individual rights, it is clear that there are broader societal implications of AI. Challenges such as misinformation, ethical dilemmas surrounding deep fakes, and the opaque nature of AI models are understandable and obvious concerns. However, the fear of obsolescence in the face of AI-generated content is palpable, as is the concern for the future of diversity and access within the creative sector. Yet, perhaps more than this, is the question of who or what we want to narrate the story of being human at this point in time.

Do we desire a machine or a person to depict our history? What value are we placing on human creativity?

Adelaide Damoah

The government's approach to fostering AI innovation, while understandable, must be tempered with the urgent need to safeguard the UK's robust creative sector, which could easily be left out (it is not highlighted in the UK Government White Paper and likely falls into the category of ‘Other’). That being said, this sector is not merely an economic asset, generating £126 billion annually and employing millions and growing faster than other industries; it is a cultural bedrock that helps define the nation's identity and global influence.

At this crucial moment in time, the choices made regarding the integration of AI into British society will have far-reaching consequences. It is essential that artists are included in discussions and that a solid middle ground is found where their rights are respected and upheld. Action taken now, that is continually renewed and updated in line with developments in the technology, is not only economically sound, but also in alignment with the UK's dedication to cultural and ethical principles. Safeguarding the interests of artists in the age of AI requires a collective effort to establish robust regulations, promote fair compensation, and provide education and training to empower artists for this ever evolving environment.

Recent landmark EU legislation protects artists, with a specific requirement that AI tools gain express permission from artists for machine learning. The way forward is clear: the UK must enact policies that safeguard artists' rights in step with AI's rapid development. This involves creating a framework that ensures transparency, respects copyright, and provides fair compensation for the use of artistic works in AI applications. By doing so, the UK can set an example in harmonising technological progress with the preservation of artistic integrity and livelihoods.

The government's role in this endeavour is crucial. Ensuring a future where AI contributes positively to society, without undermining the creative sector, is a task that demands careful but immediate attention and action. It's about fostering an environment where innovation coexists with the respect and protection of artists' rights, ensuring the creative sector remains vibrant and sustainable.

AI will continue to evolve exponentially with or without government intervention. Where we are now is the tip of the iceberg in terms of reshaping the landscape of creativity and innovation into something that none of us could have imagined before we became aware of it. The UK has the opportunity to establish a global standard in how it nurtures this technological advancement while safeguarding the interests of its artists. This is not merely an economic strategy but a commitment to the artists who enrich our cultural heritage. Balancing AI innovation with the protection of artists' rights is imperative for a society that values both technological advancement and cultural integrity.