AI Art: What Should Fair Compensation Look Like?

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New research from Goizueta’s David Schweidel looks at questions of compensation to human artists when images based on their work are generated via artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is making art. That is to say, compelling artistic creations based on thousands of years of art production may now be just a few text prompts away. And it’s all thanks to generative AI trained on internet images. You don’t need Picasso’s skillset to create something in his style. You just need an AI-powered image generator like DALL-E 3 (created by OpenAI), Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion.

If you haven’t tried one of these programs yet, you really should (free or beta versions make this a low-risk proposal). For example, you might use your phone to snap a photo of your child’s latest masterpiece from school. Then, you might ask DALL-E to render it in the swirling style of Vincent Van Gogh. A color printout of that might jazz up your refrigerator door for the better.

Intellectual Property in the Age of AI

Now, what if you wanted to sell your AI-generated art on a t-shirt or poster? Or what if you wanted to create a surefire logo for your business? What are the intellectual property (IP) implications at work?

Take the case of a 35-year-old Polish artist named Greg Rutkowski. Rutkowski has reportedly been included in more AI-image prompts than Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, or Van Gogh. As a professional digital artist, Rutkowski makes his living creating striking images of dragons and battles in his signature fantasy style. That is, unless they are generated by AI, in which case he doesn’t.

“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But what about the case of a working artist? What if someone is potentially not receiving payment because people can easily copy his style with generative AI?” That’s the question David Schweidel, Rebecca Cheney McGreevy Endowed Chair and professor of marketing at Goizueta Business School is asking. Flattery won’t pay the bills. “We realized early on that IP is a huge issue when it comes to all forms of generative AI,” Schweidel says. “We have to resolve such issues to unlock AI’s potential.”

Schweidel’s latest working paper is titled “Generative AI and Artists: Consumer Preferences for Style and Fair Compensation.” It is coauthored with professors Jason Bell, Jeff Dotson, and Wen Wang (of University of Oxford, Brigham Young University, and University of Maryland, respectively). In this paper, the four researchers analyze a series of experiments with consumers’ prompts and preferences using Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. The results lead to some practical advice and insights that could benefit artists and AI’s business users alike.

Real Compensation for AI Work?

In their research, to see if compensating artists for AI creations was a viable option, the coauthors wanted to see if three basic conditions were met:

– Are artists’ names frequently used in generative AI prompts?

– Do consumers prefer the results of prompts that cite artists’ names?

– Are consumers willing to pay more for an AI-generated product that was created citing some artists’ names?

Crunching the data, they found the same answer to all three questions: yes.

More specifically, the coauthors turned to a dataset that contains millions of “text-to-image” prompts from Stable Diffusion. In this large dataset, the researchers found that living and deceased artists were frequently mentioned by name. (For the curious, the top three mentioned in this database were: Rutkowski, artgerm [another contemporary artist, born in Hong Kong, residing in Singapore] and Alphonse Mucha [a popular Czech Art Nouveau artist who died in 1939].)

Given that AI users are likely to use artists’ names in their text prompts, the team also conducted experiments to gauge how the results were perceived. Using deep learning models, they found that including an artist’s name in a prompt systematically improves the output’s aesthetic quality and likeability.

The Impact of Artist Compensation on Perceived Worth

Next, the researchers studied consumers’ willingness to pay in various circumstances. The researchers used Midjourney with the following dynamic prompt:

“Create a picture of ⟨subject⟩ in the style of ⟨artist⟩”.

The subjects chosen were the advertising creation known as the Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional candy tycoon Willy Wonka, and the deceased TV painting instructor Bob Ross (Why not?). The artists cited were Ansel Adams, Frida Kahlo, Alphonse Mucha and Sinichiro Wantabe. The team repeated the experiment with and without artists in various configurations of subjects and styles to find statistically significant patterns. In some, consumers were asked to consider buying t-shirts or wall art. In short, the series of experiments revealed that consumers saw more value in an image when they understood that the artist associated with it would be compensated.

Here’s a sample of imagery AI generated using three subjects names “in the style of Alphonse Mucha.”
Source: Midjourney cited in

“I was honestly a bit surprised that people were willing to pay more for a product if they knew the artist would get compensated,” Schweidel explains. “In short, the pay-per-use model really resonates with consumers.” In fact, consumers preferred pay-per-use over a model in which artists received a flat fee in return for being included in AI training data. That is to say, royalties seem like a fairer way to reward the most popular artists in AI. Of course, there’s still much more work to be done to figure out the right amount to pay in each possible case.

What Can We Draw From This?

We’re still in the early days of generative AI, and IP issues abound. Notably, the New York Times announced in December that it is suing OpenAI (the creator of ChatGPT) and Microsoft for copyright infringement. Millions of New York Times articles have been used to train generative AI to inform and improve it.

“The lawsuit by the New York Times could feasibly result in a ruling that these models were built on tainted data. Where would that leave us?” asks Schweidel.

"One thing is clear: we must work to resolve compensation and IP issues. Our research shows that consumers respond positively to fair compensation models. That’s a path for companies to legally leverage these technologies while benefiting creators."

David Schweidel

To adopt generative AI responsibly in the future, businesses should consider three things. First, they should communicate to consumers when artists’ styles are used. Second, they should compensate contributing artists. And third, they should convey these practices to consumers. “And our research indicates that consumers will feel better about that: it’s ethical.”

AI is quickly becoming a topic of regulators, lawmakers and journalists and if you're looking to know more - let us help.

David A. Schweidel, Professor of Marketing, Goizueta Business School at Emory University

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