Shutterstock and Getty Images bans AI-generated content over fears of legal challenges

In Brief

Getty Images and Shutterstock have banned the upload and sale of images generated using AI.

Creative platforms are concerned about the legality of AI-generated images.

The Trust Project is a worldwide group of news organizations working to establish transparency standards.

Following the recent release of AI-generated images by stock photo sites Getty Images and Shutterstock, both of the industry’s top companies have now officially banned and removed the submission of AI-generated visual art on their platforms. The decision was made due to concerns that these images could lead to legal challenges in the future. 

Shutterstock and Getty Images bans AI-generated content over fears of legal challenges
Example of image generated by AI. Prompt: Barack Obama Advertising Coca Cola Drinks

Shutterstock followed Getty Images’ lead shortly after, with a similar statement released on their blog. “Shutterstock is committed to operating its business in a manner that upholds both the letter and the spirit of the law. In light of this, we have decided to remove all AI-generated visual art from our platform.

The removal of these images comes as a surprise to many in the industry, as it was only recently that Getty Images began offering them for sale. Just last week, the company announced that it would be selling a collection of AI-generated images that were created by artificial intelligence software developer Obvious. Getty Images described the collection as “a new category of digital art” and said that it would be offering them for sale under a royalty-free license.

However, it seems that the company has had a change of heart in the wake of concerns about the legal status of these images. It remains to be seen how this decision will affect Getty Images and Shutterstock’s relationship with Obvious, or if other stock photo sites will follow suit in banning AI-generated content.

The Coaching Knowledge Is Foggy

Image-to-text generators, such as DALL-E, have been trained on millions of images that were scraped from the internet. While the image generator companies don’t say as much, the data set will include millions of copyrighted images.

For example, a customer may take Ansel Adams’ style and use it to create the below picture of an apocalyptic race. This leads to a feeling of intertextuality and raises the question: should artists who have influenced the synthesizer be compensated?

AI-generated images are not allowed on Getty Images and iStock

Today, the well-respected Getty Images disallowed AI images from being sold on its website and microstock agency, Stock.

CEO Craig Peters told The Verge that the company will no longer accept images created with tools like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, Dall-E, etc. He also announced that they would remove all AI-generated content from their libraries.

Furthermore, Peters stated that they’re collaborating with the C2PA (Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity) to build AI-based image filters. These filters will help Getty Images to keep its policies and guidelines up-to-date with the latest AI technologies.

Shutterstock and Getty Images bans AI-generated content over fears of legal challenges
Example of image generated by AI. Prompt: Donald Trump with Coca-Cola in the Metaverse Futuristic Neon City

Getty Images isn’t the only one to take this stance. iStock, a microstock website owned by Getty Images, also announced that it would be removing all AI-generated images from its site. In an email to customers, iStock said that it “takes a stand against AI-generated visual art.”

The move by Getty Images and iStock is sure to have a ripple effect throughout the industry. It will be interesting to see if other stock photo sites follow suit in banning AI-generated content. For now, it seems that Getty Images and iStock are leading the charge in protecting the authenticity of their images.

Because we had previously addressed this issue in our cover story on AI-generated images, titled Faces of AI: Permissions Have to Be Secured Every Step of the Way, the main challenge with AI-made pictures is that permissions must be secured at every stage; otherwise, copyright isn’t as ironclad as it should be.

Many innovative and exciting tools, like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney, are trained using photos and illustrations from the web. However, many of these images may be copyrighted or licensed on stock photo sites. According to Waxy, a small sample of images used to train Stable Diffusion showed that this is indeed the case. Once the software has been trained using these images, it can then create entirely new images based on scraps from other pictures that belong to other creators.

If it’s not crystal clear that all copyright holders have given their okay for their work to be used to train AI software, then the legal basis for an image created by said software weakens. Now that there are developers unveiling tools to identify AI training usage—like Spawning’s tool to detect if your photos have been employed in AI training—it seems probable that artists and individuals will voice complaints about their work being utilized without consent.

It doesn’t matter that Dall-E users have complete control of the art they create: the end result might be yours, but unless the program’s dataset is completely clean, your copyright may not be upheld.

Getty and Shutterstock Are Not Risking Licensing AI Images

The ban on AI media submissions by Getty and Shutterstock is due to the legal risks associated with copyright and biometric data (another major concern in AI photos, which refers to people’s right to privacy over their images and having them used to train AI algorithms).

It’s a smart decision to buy photos from a reputable source because you never know when someone will claim copyright infringement on an image you thought you purchased lawfully.

As AI-generated visuals are a frequently discussed topic at big industry events such as the upcoming DMLA Conference, it’s likely that the issues surrounding AI photo licensing will be resolved.  However, for now, Getty and Shutterstock’s decision to avoid the risks involved in AI-created imagery is understandable.

What’s Next for Getty Images and AI-Generated Content?

Getty Images decision to ban AI-generated content is a major blow to the burgeoning industry of AI-created visuals. However, it’s not surprising given the legal challenges and concerns that surround AI-generated images.

Getty Images is one of the largest stock photo sites in the world, and its decision to ban AI-generated content will likely have a ripple effect throughout the industry. Other stock photo sites may follow Getty Images’ lead in order to avoid any legal challenges that may arise from AI-generated content.

For now, it seems that Getty Images and iStock are leading the charge in protecting the authenticity of their images. But as AI-generated visuals become more realistic and sophisticated, it’s possible that Getty Images’ ban may only be a temporary measure.

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Damir Yalalov

Damir is the Editor/SEO/Product Lead at He is most interested in SecureTech, Blockchain, and FinTech startups. Damir earned a bachelor's degree in physics.

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