Artificial Intelligence (AI) AOI survey results

Illustration by Harriet Noble

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time and is utilised in many areas of our lives, however as technology has developed, creatives are becoming increasingly aware of how AI can be used in ways which could be detrimental to our creative industries.

How does AI work?

AI needs to learn how to do something by being taught from a large set of data. AI text-to-image technology (including platforms like DALL-E 2Midjourney, and Stable Diffussion) builds this data set by scraping from images and text from the internet. Doing this is called ‘Text and Data mining’ (TDM). Currently, there is no right in UK law for AI platforms to do this without the copyright owner’s permission, but the UK Government recently proposed an exception to copyright when it comes to TDM. 

What does this exception mean?

This exception would mean that creators and rights holders of images would not be able to prevent their work from being scraped for data unless it was protected behind a paywall, which clearly would not be practical for image makers who want potential commissioners to see their work in the easiest way possible (or stock libraries who want to licence images). This prevents you from effectively protecting your work from potentially being scraped and used to produce AI images.

AOI Survey

The AOI recently launched a survey to gather further information on the impact the TDM exception will have on UK illustrators. We received 360 responses, which will help us to prepare statistics and evidence to submit to government. This includes illustrators’ individual positions on aspects of the their artwork being used in AI training. 

Respondents were overwhelmingly against the governments proposed exception, with 97% stating that they were opposed to their illustrations being used for artificial intelligence or machine learning purposes without their permission.  

Interestingly, 43% of respondents would be open to licensing their illustrations as data for AI or for machine learning purposes, if offered an appropriate fee. This is a model we would encourage the UK government to consider further.  

On average, respondents had 52 images that were publicly visible online. Multiplying 52 with the current AOI membership number of 2800, means that there are potentially 145,600 members’ images online which could be scraped for AI learning. We estimate that there are 9,000 illustrators in the UK in total, which means that there could be over 468,000 illustrations at risk of being scraped across the wider community. This is a significantly high number of creative works that are at the risk of being utilised without fair renumeration. 

What the AOI is doing

The AOI are concerned about this situation and we are aware that our members and the illustration community share those concerns. Alongside several other organisations, including the Association of Photographers and picture libraries, we have met with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to reiterate the negative impact of this new exception on visual creators, and to urge them to reconsider this proposal.

This line of communication with the IPO remains open, and our collective organisations continue to submit evidence whilst the proposal is under review. AOI sent our response with our evidence from the Survey to the IPO on 16 December 2022. We are also working closely with the Creators Rights Alliance and the British Copyright Council (AOI is a member of both organisations) as there are concerns from all sides of the creative industries – music, text etc.

AI and the future

Beyond the TDM copyright exception, the development of AI image generation has a range of possible implications for the illustration industry. As with any technological advancement throughout history, we must acknowledge that AI image generation is unlikely to be able to be stopped. However, the technology is currently developing faster than the legislation around it, which needs to be urgently addressed.

We are yet to see how heavily commissioners will utilise this technology on an ongoing basis, which is something to be closely observed. There will also be illustrators and artists, possibly currently and in the future, who wish to use AI as a tool within their own imagery. AI development will be an important discussion for the illustration community to engage with and we look forward to hearing your views.

Moving forward

We will continue to work with our Board, members and the organisations mentioned above, to protect and support the illustration industry, and to champion your rights when liaising with Government.

Please contact [email protected] if you have any evidence of your original work which you own the copyright to being included in AI generated images.

More information on our Campaigns


9th December 2022
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