Indie Artists Fight AI Imagers With Innovative Online Protests

When AI-generated images began appearing on the ArtStation homepage in early December, its users protested. They announced their dissatisfaction with a compelling image of a stop sign reading: “No to AI images.” Within a week, the image had been uploaded thousands of times and started dominant the platform’s trending page.

The reasoning behind the protest is simple; ArtStation users don’t want a platform they use for sharing and networking to support AI Images that have been generated through the theft of artistic work and creativity.

“I’m really considering pulling my art online from places like Artstation,” Suzanne Helmigh, Ghostfire Gaming’s art director, told her 43,000 Twitter followers. “If the point of creating art is missed, and all our work is good to feed a machine, to be abused and turned into Frankenstein in some AI images.”

An anti-AI poster by artist Mignon Zakuga. Photo: Mignon Zakuga.

In response, the platform, known as a hub for game, movie, and anime artists, defended its position and had moderators remove anti-AI images. Users were furious and continued to post their protests, some with the addendum “Round two, you’re not listening.” By December 16, ArtStation had updated its AI-focused FAQ page, though it hadn’t exactly disavowed AI generators and their images.

the update announced that ArtStation had added a “NoAI” tag that allows artists to prevent their work from being included in AI systems. But the users were still not appeased. First, because the platform has opted-in in its default position; and second, because users need to apply “NoAI” tags one by one to their artwork. ArtStation has suggested that it will allow users to remove AI images from their home pages, though it hasn’t set a date for that yet.

The statement tone of ArtStation, which launched in 2014 and claims to have more than 3 million users, seemed to undermine the sense of community that has made it so popular.

“Artists should be free to decide how their art is used and we don’t want to become a gatekeeper, with site terms stifling AI research and commercialization,” ArtStation wrote on its “Use of AI Software” page. “Choosing not to use the tag leaves copyright law to govern whether or not the artwork was used fairly.”

ArtStation wrote that neither it nor its parent company, Epic, have commercial agreements with AI art generators, but did not respond to our request for further comment.

The disagreement between the artists and the platform mirrors the one that broke out in DeviantArt, another long-standing art sharing site. Together, they capture the anxiety of working artists who have seen the popularity of AI imagers like Midjourney, DALL-E, AI lensand Night Cafe, have skyrocketed in the last 12 months.

Several of these platforms run on Stable Diffusion, an open source dataset. Removing their work from the next database update, due to be released next year, may well be the starting point for artists to take a stand against the AI. Even then, the debate between creators and platforms seems to continue.

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