Judge Dismisses Several Copyright Allegations Against AI Companies in Artist Class Action

On Monday, a judge in California federal court dismissed several claims brought by a group of artists against the developers of AI text-to-image generator tools Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt, lowering the stakes of the closely-watched copyright case.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick has dismissed all of the allegations brought by Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz against Midjourney and DeviantArt, Reuters reports. However, the judge added that the artists could file an amended complaint against the two companies, on the basis that their system utilize Stability’s Stable Diffusion text-to-image software.

Orrick also dismissed the entirety of McKernan and Ortiz’s copyright infringement claims, while Andersen was greenlit to continue pursuing her “core” claim that Stability’s alleged use of her artworks to train its AI-image generator model is a copyright violation.

“Even Stability recognizes that determination of the truth of these allegations – whether copying in violation of the Copyright Act occurred in the context of training Stable Diffusion or occurs when Stable Diffusion is run – cannot be resolved at this juncture,” Orrick said in his ruling.

The artists’ attorneys Joseph Saveri and Matthew Butterick said in a statement that the amended complaint will be filed next month.

In January, Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz, filed a complaint that accused Stability of using billions of images “scraped” from the internet, including theirs, in the dataset used to train Stability Diffusion to generate its own images. Because their work was used to train the models, the artists argue, the models are producing derivative works.

Orrick, however, said Monday that he was “not convinced” that the images created by Stability Diffusion violated the artists’ copyrights, and was skeptical of how much of an impact these three artist’s works could have had on the models, insofar as they are likely to produce derivatives, given that these models were trained on billions of images. 

He added that the artists would have a difficult time in future courts proving copyright infringement without a side-by-side comparison of images with obvious visual similarities. Orrick also dismissed claims from the artists that the three companies violated their publicity rights, but gave them permission to refile.

As previously reported by ARTnews, the defendants’ lawyers pointed out various issues with the artists’ arguments. Firstly, out of the three named plaintiffs—Sarah Andersen, Karla Ortiz, and Kelly McKernan—only Andersen had registered several works with the U.S. Copyright Office. That Ortiz and McKernan don’t hold registered copyright is a major obstacle to claiming valid copyright infringement claims.