AI-Generated Photos: Are They Art or Plagiarism?

AI-Generated Photos: Are They Art or Plagiarism?

The future of photography. Are we photographers in danger of being replaced, or is this just another fad due to pass us by? Who owns the digital rights? How much of a photograph that's generated by AI still belongs to the original artist, or does it belong to no one? 

The Ethics of AI Photography

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the world at an incredible speed, with photography being no exception. AI-powered tools are now available that can create very realistic images very quickly without the need for a human photographer. This raises a number of ethical and logistical questions, such as:

  • Is there a role for AI-powered photography in the future?
  • How do we ensure that AI-generated images are authentic and truthful?
  • What are the implications of AI photography for photojournalism and other forms of documentary photography?
  • How do we police the copyright and ownership of work and ensure work does not breach copyright or IP laws?

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The Role of the Photographer in AI-Powered Photography

In traditional photography, the photographer plays an undisputable central role in the creative process. We choose the subject, the composition, the exposure, the lighting, and the pose. We also have the power to manipulate the image in post-production. With AI photography, however, the photographer's role is much more limited. The AI tool does the majority of the work, and the photographer is essentially just a user, even though we do have a somewhat limited choice of content selection.

This raises the question of whether AI photography can truly be considered art. Some argue it cannot because the photographer is not exercising their creativity. Is it derived from a passion? While computers are incapable of empathy and passion, is not all art derived from passion of one kind or another? Others argue that AI photography can be just as creative as traditional photography because the photographer is still responsible for choosing the subject and the AI tool is simply a tool that helps them to express their vision.

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The Authenticity of AI-Generated Images

Another ethical issue raised by AI photography is the authenticity of the images. With traditional photography, it is relatively easy to verify the authenticity of an image. The photographer can be identified, and the image can be dated and geotagged. With AI-generated images, however, it is much more difficult to verify their authenticity. Where does this take us when it comes to photojournalism and the reality that is becoming "you can't now trust what you see before your eyes" and the end of the "the camera never lies" saying?

This is because AI tools can be used to create images that are almost indistinguishable from real photographs. This raises the possibility that AI-generated images could (or probably already are) be used to create fake news or propaganda. It is important to be aware of this possibility when consuming AI-generated images.

The Implications of AI Photography for Photojournalism

Photojournalism is based on the principle of objectivity, which means that the photographer should not manipulate the image in any way. This is to ensure that the viewer can trust that the image is an accurate representation of reality.

AI photography raises a number of challenges for photojournalism. One challenge is that it can be difficult to distinguish between AI-generated images and real photographs. This could lead to the spread of misinformation. Another challenge is that AI tools can be used to create images that are more visually appealing than real photographs. This could lead to a decline in the quality of photojournalism and the rise of the Instagram generation idea that social media is more appealing than real life having much more far-reaching and widespread effects.

My Thoughts

AI photography is a powerful new tool that has the potential to revolutionize the way we create and consume images. As a tech geek, I love the idea that technology is being used to create new art and new images that appeal to our senses and show us things we have never seen before. However, it is crucial to be aware of the ethical issues raised by AI photography. We need to ensure that AI photography is used in a responsible way and that it does not undermine the authenticity of photography or the integrity of photojournalism. We also need to nail down the legal side of things so that created art is credited where is it due and real creatives don't leave the profession because of the dilution of the quality of work coming from this AI-powered movement.

Here are my thoughts on using AI photography ethically:

  • Be transparent about the fact that you are using AI photography.
  • Don't enter competitions with work that isn't 100% yours.
  • Do not use AI photography to create fake news or propaganda.
  • Be aware of the limitations of AI photography.
  • Use AI photography to complement your own creativity, rather than to replace it.
Peter Morgan's picture

Peter Morgan is a professional photographer, drone pilot, writer and tech enthusiast. He has worked in the tech sector since the age of 16 and has over 30 years experience of working with technology. He also runs his own photographic company and shoots weddings, headshots and commercial projects.

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Thanks for the article. Please lets stop and never use the term "A.I. photography". It is not photography. Consider "A.I. images" or other similar alternatives.

And it's not "AI" either.

The whole idea around this article is to generate a discussion around images created by computers (I use the term AI photography as its the only term there is currently to describe this kind of work so I apologize if this has offended anyone but let's get back to the real issues here regardless of how we describe it)

Ditto with the other comment. If it’s fully AI generated, it’s not AI “photography”. It’s just AI imagery. You don’t call a photorealistic painting a photograph because it’s not a photograph at all. Same applies for photorealistic AI-generated Imagery.

You ever have one of those bosses who takes credit for your work? How would it be any different from “AI photography” or AI art in general? You didn’t make the art. The AI did.

If you tell a painter to paint a picture which is the artist? The one telling how/what to paint or the one painting? OK, I think we can all agree on the answer here.

So... You tell a computer program to paint a picture. Does the same apply here? For me, it does. And like Rex & co. above said, AI images have nothing to do with photography. Digital art? Why not? Photography? No. Definitely not.

If somebody entirely generates something it doesn't interest me at all. If they claim it is their art then I consider them dishonest.

If I'm including my own photo(s) it is AI compositing, not photography. I am experimenting with it for composites and have to admit it is fun. I include a detailed disclosure for anything I let anybody else see. I also ask a lot of questions around whether people care and does it look realistic. Almost everybody I have asked appreciates the disclosure and doesn't care that some of it is not a photo I took. It seems to me that it isn't really all that different than other compositing with photos one didn't take. The difference is that you don't know who captured the photo which is probably the same for most people replacing skies.

A friend of mine (who regularly lets Photoshop replace his skies) gave me a lot of crap that using AI in the way I am doesn't require any skill. At least in this point in time generative AI in Photoshop requires a lot more skill than their sky replacement.

Ultimately for me it boils down to a question of honesty. Anybody that presents something as a photo that is actually a composite is being dishonest. If it is disclosed it is art and artistry is determined by the viewers.

I agree and I know of photographers who've passed off AI work as their own (no names mentioned here let's leave it up to their sense of morality to decide whether to keep taking credit for computer-generated art)

There is no such thing as an AI generated 'photo'. Photographs are created by recording light via a lens onto either a digital sensor or a light sensitive material. AI imagery doesn't fulfil any of that. For someone writing an article for a photography website that's a fairly serious and fundamental mistake to make. As to whether they are plagiarism, who cares? They're fiction.

It's not a mistake - it's a term of reference. I am fully aware of how photographs are made and for the moment until we as a society decide and agree on how to describe work of this nature, it's open for debate right?

Couldn't we just use the term "CGI", after all it is a computer generated image and even non photographers know what that stands for.

Consider this: these generative systems never actually see the real world. Their only input is photos created by people. All they can possibly do is combine and modify the work of real photographers; they contribute nothing of their own because they have nothing to offer.

absolutely and this might just be another fad. However, how long will it be until computer systems like this get fed by real-time webcams and live content? Does it encourage people trying to get away with passing work like this off as their own? I am genuinely interested in everyone's thoughts.

Yes, at some point camera drones will be flying around photographing everything in sight, as copyright-free input for these generators. As of today, a human would still have to recognize and annotate every object before the software could use that imagery. So while camera drones would save effort, a lot of expensive human work would still be needed to produce "products" like stock photo archives.

Further in the future, who knows. Certainly the end is at hand for a lot of photography. But after we've all seen enough "awesome" AI images, a desire for authenticity may reassert itself.

Photography uses light to create the image. Whichever doesn’t use light to create the image can not be called as photograph. All other processes that use anything other than light to create the image is just graphics- computer graphics / illustration /….Nowhere near to photography-

I believe the key lies in one of the letter - A.I. Artificial kind stands out to me.