Shutterstock Hoping to Become What Apple Was to Napster in the AI Image Space

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Shutterstock has teamed up with Databricks to create a new generative AI model which it hopes will do for AI-generated images what Apple did for MP3s in the early 2000s.

Called ImageAI, the model is powered by Databricks and has been trained exclusively on Shutterstock’s vast image depository. The companies believe that it means there is no risk of copyright infringement lawsuits and can therefore provide indemnification to customers.

Naveen Rao, the head of generative AI at Databricks, tells Fast Company that ImageAI could have a similar effect to the one Apple had on the music market 20 years ago.

“Apple solved this by figuring out a way to pay creators and providing a platform that enables people to buy music seamlessly,” Rao says.

“I think there’s something similar to that going on here, where the difference is now that we’re not just taking the images directly and selling them, we’re actually building models out of them that can produce content based upon that data — it’s like a derivative of the data.”

Apple was selling music files to the general public and ImageAI will be far more business-facing because Rao believes companies making marketing campaigns won’t want any kind of legal risks when using AI material.

“I don’t want to get into legal waters by producing content that has Mickey Mouse in it by accident; I want to make sure everything that went into that is absolutely kosher in terms of permission,” Rao adds. “All of that needs to be done upfront.”

The new ImageAI model will be hosted on Databricks servers and it will be available via an API. Databricks is primarily a cloud-based platform providing large companies with data storage. Shutterstock will be paid an undisclosed fee every time an image is generated.

AI Remains a Legal Headache

Businesses are increasingly turning to generative AI for marketing; the CEO of Klarna recently got into hot water for boasting that his business will save $10 million this year at the expense of photographers and the photo industry thanks to generative AI.

But whether AI imagery is totally safe no matter how the model was trained remains unclear. The U.S. Copyright Office does not afford AI-generated artwork protection.

The question of remuneration for photographers whose images were used to train models also remains and whether the human artists will be happy with the scenario. Shutterstock has set up an AI contributor fund for photographers whose images have been trained.