Adobe’s thoughts on the ethics of AI-generated images (and paying its contributors for them)


Adobe Summit
Image Credits: TechCrunch

We’re at a tipping point where AI is going to break trust in what you see and hear — and democracies can’t survive when people don’t agree on facts. You have to have a baseline of understanding of facts,” Dana Rao, Adobe’s general counsel and chief trust officer, told me. And while that’s not necessarily a new observation, the company’s launch of its Firefly generative image creator and overall GenAI platform this week puts this in a different context.

Maybe more so than any other company, Adobe is deeply embedded in both the creative economy and the world of marketing. And while the Adobe Summit, the company’s annual digital marketing event, unsurprisingly puts its focus on how generative AI can help marketers market more effectively with AI, there was no escaping the discussions around AI ethics, especially in the context of Firefly. Indeed, Adobe itself put AI ethics in the spotlight because the company clearly believes that this is, in part, what allows it to differentiate its generative AI offerings from those of its competition.

Adobe Summit on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. Image Credits: David Becker/AP Images for Adobe

“I manage the AI ethics program. We have a really good relationship with the engineering team as we’re developing new technologies,” Rao explained. “We’ve been reviewing AI features for the last five years. Every single AI feature that goes to market goes through the review board.” This team, it’s worth noting, also ensures that the AI-generated results are not just commercially safe but also free of bias (to ensure that when you ask for images related to an occupation, for example, the results cover a broad demographic set).  

Adobe promises artists will be compensated fairly with new generative AI product, but is fuzzy on details

As Adobe used its Adobe Stock service to train the model (in addition to openly licensed and public domain images), the company doesn’t have to worry about having the rights to these images. The photographers that contribute to Stock already have a commercial relationship with Adobe, after all, and are likely creating the kind of commercially safe images that Adobe’s customers are looking for — and that the company can then train its AI on. And since the licensing is clear, Adobe’s users won’t have to worry about breaking any copyright laws themselves.

“That stock database of images is the perfect place to go if you want to create something designed to be commercially safe. And we have the license for it — a direct license with the contributor. And that helps on both the ethics side and the copyright side,” Rao explained.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

But that also creates questions about how to pay these contributors for the content they’ve licensed to Adobe, especially if services like Firefly take off. Today, stock photographers tend to receive royalties for every time their photo gets licensed on a platform like Adobe Stock. And while Adobe has the rights to use this content to train its model, Adobe Stock contributors will surely want to get paid for helping the company train these models, too. In the company’s defense, it’s been quite open about this, though how it expects to do this remains a bit vague. Rao didn’t provide too many additional details, but he did explain the company’s thinking in a bit more detail.

“What we’ve said is that we’re really reviewing all the different ways you could possibly do this and we’re going to do that through the beta,” he said. “I think the number one thing is that we’re committed. We feel it’s the right thing to do. We’re committed to compensating the people who are contributing their work to these databases. That’s what we want to make sure. That’s the message we want to get out there.” 

He stressed that Adobe wants there to be a value exchange between the contributors and the company. He argued that there are lots of different ways Adobe could pay contributors for how their images influence the AI-generated content, but because it’s hard to know what exactly influenced how the model created a new image, it’ll also be hard for Adobe to decide how to compensate the content creators that contributed to every AI-generated image. But Rao believes there may be proxies that the company could use — and the solution for that may actually be another AI system.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

“Speculatively,could use an AI to analyze an image and say: where dothink it came from? There’s just a number of ways to imagine how you could come up with the right model. But there’s no need right now for us to solve that problem while we’re in beta,” said Rao.

He also noted that, in addition, Adobe could maybe pay photographers for when a user asks for an image that’s specifically influenced by their individual style.

“Whenthink about a forward-looking [compensation] model, it’s style. Right now, that’s a negative. Artists don’t want their style to be ripped off. But what if you can monetize it? What if we can say: you give us your assets. We’ll plug it into Firefly and then if someone says: I want it to look like Dana Rao, we pop up a message saying for $2, you can get something in the style of Dana Rao, all of a sudden, I get a new revenue stream,” he explained. He also noted that it is now up to everybody who works in the creative economy to figure out new ways to make money.

That’s for Adobe and its content partners to figure out, though. For users, who want to use Firefly to create their own assets, that’s not a problem they have to worry about. There are some interesting questions around how — or even if — you can copyright AI-generated images.

“Where the copyright office is now — and I think there’s a decent chance that’ll stick, because technically speaking, it’s almost nonsensical, otherwise. Right now, they’re saying that if you type in a text prompt, the resulting image: no one owns it. You need a human to add expression in order to get copyright,” explained Rao. How much value a human would have to add to copyright an image, though, is still a bit unclear.

Adobe, together with a large number of partners, has long championed the Content Authenticity Initiative, which is developing standards and tools for tracking how an image was created and manipulated over time. And while this initiative mostly focused on fighting deepfakes and misinformation, it may also come to play in this context because it will allow companies to prove that they did add their own expression to an AI-generated image.

Adobe Express launches an enterprise tier with generative AI tools

With Firefly, Adobe gets into the generative AI game

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

12 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

14 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android