DeviantArt’s new AI generator angers artists who promise, but fail to protect creators’ rights

Since its launch in 2000, DeviantArt has become one of the most popular internet platforms for artists to upload and share artwork. Then, in a single day, the company did a lot to destroy the value of two decades of goodwill and community building.

The uproar arrived with the rollout of DeviantArt’s DreamUp, an AI image-generating tool it created alongside Stable Diffusion and integrated into its platform on Nov. 9. Upon release, every artwork on the platform was available to DreamUp. Deviants, as the platform calls its users, were furious, a feeling further compounded by the requirement to opt out of AI datasets – one job at a time – with the platform claiming faster options were too complicated and technical to implement. Many of DeviantArt’s more than 60 million registered members have thousands of uploaded works.

Less than 12 hours later, critics forced a rollback, with the company announcing in a statement, “We’ve heard community feedback and now all deviations are automatically labeled as not allowed for use in AI datasets.” Many deviants, however, were neither convinced nor satisfied by the U-turn.

“DeviantArt’s release of DreamUp was completely tone deaf and reeked of desperation to stay relevant in the machine learning gold rush,” Steven Zapata, professional illustrator and DeviantArt user, told Artnet News. “Launching their ‘protections’ on an opt-in basis was clearly out of step with their community values, as evidenced by the immediate backlash.”

The platform has long presented itself as a conscientious protector of artists. Last year, it released Protect Protocol, a tool that scans nine blockchains for breaches and NFT art theft; DreamUp itself has been labeled “safe and fair” in part because of the “noimageai” guidelines it offers users when uploading work. The perception of hypocrisy made matters worse.

“Man at the Crossroads,” Courtesy of Steven Zapata.

“Ignoring the ethical concerns around AI and not waiting for the legal landscape to stabilize sent the message that they didn’t care what was good for artists,” said Logan Preshaw, an expert based in Australia. visual development artist, told Artnet News. “With their NFT theft protection, they seemed to be saying, ‘We’re with you. But here they seem to be saying, ‘We are more than happy to benefit personally from the exploitation of your work.’

Although DeviantArt changes the terms of operation of DreamUp, many creators claim that the problem starts with Stable Diffusion, a model formed on the work of many artists on the Internet without permission. As Ian Fey, an artist who deactivated his DeviantArt account out of frustration, told Artnet News via email, “The art was already scratched in there. This is already inherently unethical and non-consensual, and they seek to profit from it.

Another, somewhat intractable, problem for DeviantArt is its inability to force other machine learning models to honor the safeguards it has created for Deviants. Companies such as Stability, LAION, and Google operate on a generous interpretation of text and data mining that prevents DeviantArt from truly protecting its creators without initiating litigation.

“I worry about the potential of [A.I. generation tools] negatively impact the artist community,” Jeff Gluck, intellectual property attorney at the law firm Gluck, told Artnet News. “Eventually, we will see new legislation on the use of AI platforms will have to strike a balance between companies and real creators who see it as a threat to their livelihoods and the protection of intellectual property.”

For the countless creators impacted by DreamUp, such a legal battle can’t come soon enough.

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