AI Law and You: A Creator’s Guide To Ethically Using AI While The Legal Framework Evolves

ai law - a gavel and a robot resting over the word AI
AI Law TSViPhoto/Shuttertsock RDVector/Shutterstock Remix by Caterina Cox

The debate over how to ethically use AI is just beginning, with the technology evolving faster than the conversation around it. But in the meantime, it’s important to keep your AI use ethical. There is no hard AI law, but best practices surrounding AI already exist. 

Issues regarding AI must be considered daily when making content. You need to ask yourself if how you’re using AI is ethical. In a world without hard AI laws, creators may feel left to navigate this tricky world alone. However, from the conversation surrounding AI’s ethics, a framework for navigating the ethics is rising. 

The Golden Rule of AI Law Is Don’t Steal People’s Identity, Voice, or Image

It’s still relatively the Wild West out there regarding AI. However, there are loose rules to follow as technology grows and infiltrates the creator economy. Consider one of the major creator platforms: YouTube. 

In 2023, YouTube vice presidents of product management Jennifer Flannery O’Connor and Emily Moxley addressed concerns about AI. In a letter to users, they emphasized the importance of ethics when using AI. 

For creators, the most important is not to use AI images of real people without their consent. YouTube, they said, they would “introduce updates that inform viewers when the content they’re seeing is synthetic. Specifically, we’ll require creators to disclose when they’ve created altered or synthetic content that is realistic, including using AI tools.” 

In cases where someone’s likeness was used, they promised YouTube would allow users to request the removal of AI-generated content that looks like an identifiable person. 

Similarly, for musicians, users would be able to place a request asking YouTube to remove AI-generated music content that “mimics an artist’s unique singing or rapping voice.”

In general, creators can be good citizens when using AI by simply not stealing. Here are some AI best practices. 

1) Don’t make AI images of real people without their express permission 

2) Have a human designer alter AI-generated images to make sure they’re not using copyrighted content 

3) Cite the AI models you use when generating an image in your credits  

The United States Department of Defense’s Five Principles of Artificial Intelligence Ethics

When considering the ethics of AI, it’s a good rule of thumb to consider the opinions of those paid to be paranoid. Accordingly, you should listen to the US Department of Defense. In 2020, the DoD developed five principles of artificial intelligence ethics to use in combat and non-combat situations. 

They consulted AI and tech experts, everyday Americans, and Department of Defense leaders. Here’s what they came up with for themselves.

1. Responsibility: Use judgment and care while developing and using AI capabilities. 

2. Equitability: Minimize unintended bias in AI capabilities

3. Traceability: Be transparent, use auditable methodology, data sources, and design procedure and documentation 

4. Reliability: Have well-defined uses, testing procedures, and safety protocol

5. Governability: Possess the ability to detect and avoid unintended consequences

Most of us who use AI as creators are not making war robots in the basement. But as a rubric in general, these principles seem useful when engaging with and using AI in creative endeavors. 

Let’s get into copyright concerns because that’s the main area of law regarding AI and creative use. The U.S. Copyright Office states in its current edition of the Compendium that “to qualify as a work of ‘authorship,’ a human being must create a work.” 

The Copyright Office “will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.”

In other words, AI-generated art is currently not copyrightable because no human made it. That means it is legal to use, but you can’t sue someone for using your AI creation themselves. There are two cases often cited when discussing AI and copyright law. 

Zarya of the Dawn

One case regards a graphic novel called “Zarya of the Dawn” by Kris Kashtanova. The novel’s copyright registration was canceled due to AI — specifically, the visual elements of the novel were made using the AI-generative tool Midjourney while the written parts were Kashtanova’s own creation

“Those kinds of choices, like when a human is making a decision about how to arrange something or contribute to part of it, those human-created aspects are entitled to copyright protection,” David Mattern, an intellectual property lawyer, told PCMag

In February 2023, the Copyright Office somewhat shifted its classification and copyrighted the text and arrangement of material of “Zarya of the Dawn.” The Midjourney-produced images remain uncopyrighted. 

“The future of creativity depends on creators being able to distinguish what is an appropriate use of AI from what is not,” Hannah Peterson, founder of AI Daily, told Passionfruit. “Usually, we have regulations to guide us, but right now, we’re in a legal gray area. We have to think really critically about what’s ethically sound and responsible until the laws catch up.”

Can Stability AI, Midjourney, and Deviantart Train AI on Your Art?

Another case revolves around training AI systems in the personal styles of artists. In January 2023, Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz sued Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt. The companies were accused of unauthorized copying of their work to train AI systems in their personal styles. 

The artists said this violated their rights. The companies asked a San Francisco federal court to dismiss this lawsuit, which happened when a federal judge sided with the companies.  

As AI becomes a greater part of our lives, further legal investigations, lawsuits, and changes in established law will doubtlessly exist. Creators need to stay informed about current implications and developments and be responsible. 

Currently, yes. AI art can be used commercially and sold legally. But there are some things to keep in mind. You should be informed about the AI generator you use and know how they source data. More importantly, you should know whether they compensate artists whose work they use to train their AI models. 

Companies Can Make Their Own AI Law: The Case of Etsy

With the law slow to create official regulations, companies are starting to do it themselves. Take Etsy. Etsy doesn’t ban selling AI-generated art but has also updated its policies. Etsy maintains that all items must be “made and/or designed by you, the seller.” 

Thus, the AI artwork must be edited or changed in some way before it can be sold in your Etsy shop. Perhaps this could be interpreted differently down the road, depending on the reader. After all, this issue is not black and white. How many edits need to be made? What kind of edits? 

Another concern is that the Etsy review system might find that your AI art is not meeting its quality standards, and Etsy could suspend your account.

As noted, AI is still a new area of legal concern. Someone may claim ownership of the algorithm you use to create AI art. The law is still developing and may not be in your favor.

The Future of AI Law for Creators

Laws change constantly, and AI as a copyright issue is new. How we understand and regulate AI in relation to creative endeavors will naturally evolve. Olga Mac is the Vice President at LexisNexis and CEO of the AI-powered contract program Parley Pro

In “The Intersection Of Human Creativity And AI: A Legal Renaissance,” Mac writes, “As AI-generated creations become increasingly indistinguishable from those of humans, we are compelled to question the criteria for authorship and creativity. This conundrum necessitates a reevaluation of our legal frameworks, demanding a nuanced understanding of the interplay between human creativity and AI assistance.”

Some creators resist AI and consider its use under any circumstance to be unethical and predatory. Other creators try to use AI with an ethical framework, sparingly and transparently. Many others boldly embrace AI in all aspects of their work without apologizing. There’s no one right answer in a field evolving this quickly beyond “Don’t steal people’s work.”  

As consumers and creators, we have to make choices about what our boundaries are.

Legality is important. But there are also more nuanced issues to consider when using AI-generated content — and creators need to grapple with the often incomplete solutions by current copyright law. 

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