The problem with ethics is that you’re never totally sure what is right and what is wrong. Occasionally, I have a pretty good idea; for instance, racism = bad; putting away your shopping cart in the rain = good.
But AI art? Geez, it seemed real good at first. In fact, it restored my love of digital design. I used to work as a graphic designer and got burnt out. AI art gave me ideas, plus it was really fun to mess around with. It inspired me to get back into the field of design on a commercial level. It was the perfect model to base a book cover design business on, as it allowed me to generate totally customizable art—exactly what the author/client asked for. And it let me generate diverse characters that are hard to find in stock photos. I was so excited about it, and I liked using it as part of my art toolset very much.
But then people started kicking up a fuss. Many of their arguments about why AI art shouldn’t exist were nonsense. “AI art isn’t real art,” “It’s got no soul,” “Only humans can make art,” etc. These comments are based on a gatekeeping mentality about what art is and isn’t, and my response is “Just let people have fun with it, darn it. Who cares as long as it’s not hurting anyone?”
But, turns out, it may be hurting someone: artists.
Some artists are worried for their futures. With any major advance in technology in a capitalist society, jobs get replaced. It happened with automobiles. It happened with the typewriter. It happened with personal computing. It will happen with AI as well. This is an unfortunate reality, but there is no avoiding it with capitalism. So that particular hurt—there’s nothing I can do about it, and AI may come after my job as a writer and artist just as quick as the next creator. Although, I’m hopeful that we will be able to use AI as part of our toolsets and not just become obsolete memories of a golden age.
The problem many artists have with AI (and why social media is filled with “Say no to AI” posts) is not AI making art itself, but the way the current models are trained. Companies like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney have trained their AI using copyrighted images drawn by thousands of living artists. These artists are understandably peeved that their art was used without their permission.
The ethical grey area here is that the AI uses those images to learn—not to copy them. The technology does not take bits and pieces of those arts to make a new art piece (a common misconception about how AI art works). It’s more akin to a human artist looking at a bunch of artwork, being inspired, and drawing something in a similar style—and human artists do this every day. But it’s not exactly the same. Because AI isn’t human. And the AI would not be able to create the amazing works it does without the training from all these artists’ copyrighted art.
Is this “fair use” of the art by these AI companies? No one knows for sure; that’s why there are several lawsuits in progress. (If you’re interested to learn more, here’s an informative video from a lawyer on more about AI copyright, fair use, and the lawsuits currently happening against Midjourney and Stable Diffusion).
However, what is legal and what is ethical are not always the same thing. AI art, as it currently functions, is legal. That’s why I went forward with my design business, because there was no sure answer to the ethical dilemma, and I preferred to think of AI simply as taking inspiration like a human would.
But I kept coming back to the question of whether I was being an ally to other artists by using it, because I continued to see creators I love declaring this was not okay, that this was hurting them. I just can’t ignore that.
So with ALL THE EMOTIONS, I am pulling my book covers for sale, halting my book cover design business before it barely begins, and figuring out what my work will look like this year. I will still offer book formatting and map design as a service, as I don’t use AI to do those, and I may add book editing into the mix. I will also focus a lot more on my own writing, and my blog and newsletter will continue to be a resource for writing and publishing sci-fi/fantasy, though I’ll be shifting things over to Substack—more on that in a moment.
As someone with a disability, my options for work are limited—I need to work from home—but I am privileged to have a few different freelancing skills and can pivot my business; I just might not get the regular income I had hoped that cover design would provide (have I mentioned capitalism is the worst?). But it’s okay, I’ll just write a bestseller instead and make my millions that way. EASY PEASY.
Most of my Patreon tiers were geared towards my use of AI art (such as the character portrait packs), so I’m closing my Patreon and moving my content, including my newsletter, over to Substack, which is specifically designed for writers. (You can subscribe to my content there for free, or get some extra publishing insights and support me for $5/month.)
I believe ethical use of AI art is possible, but the current models need to change the way they are trained (perhaps with an opt-in option and/or compensation for artists) before I will feel good about it, especially for commercial use. I don’t judge those who continue to use AI art, as I think we’re all just trying our best to enjoy creativity and keep up with technology that heavily impacts the way our world works. I just want artists to be treated fairly along with these exciting advancements. I hope I can return to Midjourney at some point, because it was genuinely joy-giving for me.
The results of the lawsuits referred to in the video I linked above will also dictate the future of what AI art looks like, and I hope wise decisions are made—they will have big ripples on the future of AI and our society.
Anyway, in summary: capitalism sucks; AI art is great, but the way the bots are currently being trained is not; I’ve had to trash a bunch of hard work I put into my business, but it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay, RIGHT?
Thanks for reading.