Category Archives: Intellectual Property

Media, copyright, trademarks, and the public domain

Hours of Fun Creating Visual Art with Prompts

“koala bear eating eggs benedict in a bistro” is the prompt I entered into OpenAI’s DALL·E system to generate this image. I have been reading articles about AI image generation since DALL·E 2 launched earlier this year, and have been experimenting with it hands-on since I received access earlier this week. It is lots of fun, but doesn’t always generate the results you might expect. I’ve been trying to describe to it artist Henri Julien’s Chasse-gallerie, a drawing of 8 voyageurs flying in a canoe at night, and DALL·E struggles with the flying canoe. For each prompt, DALL·E initially creates 4 image variations – I’ve selected the most interesting one for each below.

La Chasse-galerie by Henri Julien
4 men in a flying canoe at night, generated by DALL·E
4 men paddling a flying canoe through the sky at night, generated by DALL·E
4 men in a canoe in the sky at night, generated by DALL·E
lumberjacks flying in a canoe past the moon, by DALL·E. I like how they are chopping the tree while flying the canoe.

Generating Images on your PC

There are models that exist that you can run on your home PC. I’ve checked out min-dalle (used by https://www.craiyon.com/) and stable-diffusion (demo). They can both create imagery that roughly matches my prompts, which is amazing. I found that the output from mid-dalle was a bit crude, with distorted features. Output I’ve generated from stable-diffusion is much better.

For me, quality really makes a difference in how much I get out of the tool. Generating low quality images isn’t as much fun. Perhaps this is a reflection of my artistic skills – I can make a crappy drawing of a panda climbing with a ball point pen while watching a Powerpoint in a random meeting. But I personally don’t have the skill to render my ideas as well as DALL·E – maybe that’s what makes it so fascinating.

A painting of a panda climbing a skyscraper, generated by DALL·E mini
A painting of a panda climbing a skyscraper, generated by stable-diffusion
A painting of a panda climbing a skyscraper, generated by DALL·E

Not all fun and games

As much fun as this is, there is a lot of controversy about the implications of making tools like this accessible.

NBC News actually has a pretty good article about the biases exhibited by DALL·E. For example, ‘a flight attendant’ only produces images of women. In this respect, it is very much like other tools currently in the marketplace – I was curious, and searched Getty Images for ‘flight attendant’ stock photos, and found only women in the top results. Image generation tools continue to propagate the bias problems we see everywhere.

An Atlantic columnist raises some other interesting points about the backlash he faced when he used generated images in his newsletter, as opposed to professional illustration that you might see in a magazine feature. Here are some further thoughts on the ideas he presented:

  • Using a computer program to illustrate stories takes away work that would go to a paid artist, “AI art does seem like a thing that will devalue art in the long run” – I almost wonder here, if the computer program just becomes another tool in the artist’s arsenal. Is the value of an illustrator in the mechanics of creating an image, or visually conveying an idea? What if we think of a program like DALL-E as a creative tool, like Photoshop. Did Photoshop devalue photography?
  • There is no compensation or disclosure to the artists who created the imagery used to train these art tools – “DALL-E is trained on the creative work of countless artists, and so there’s a legitimate argument to be made that it is essentially laundering human creativity in some way for commercial product.” – At primary school age, my children brought home art created using pointillism techniques, without compensating or disclosing inspiration from Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Popular image editing packages have had Van Gogh filters for years. We all learn and build on the work of those who preceded us. Once a style or idea is presented to the world, who owns it? Is the use case of training an algorithm a separate right, different from training an artist?

There are also challenges with image generation tools facilitating the creation of offensive imagery and disinformation, making it easier to cause harm than it is today with existing tools like Photoshop.

These tools will continue to progress, and will create change in ways, and on a scale that are hard to predict. It remains to be seen if we collectively decide to put new controls in place to address these challenges. In the meantime, I’ll be generating imagery of pandas and koalas in urban environments.

Copyright extension and NAFTA

I wrote previously about James Bond entering the public domain in Canada.

I love the idea of work in the public domain – I’ve actually read a number of Ian Flemming’s books since they’ve come out of copyright, I’ve read more of George Orwell, and I’m currently reading a book about the history of rocket fuel.

In Canada, a work enters the public domain 50 years after the author’s death – the MPAA is looking to get this extended to 70 years according to a recent article by Michael Geist:

“The MPAA also wants Canada to extend the term of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years from the current standard found in the Berne Convention of life of the author plus 50 years. It argues that the “extension of the term of protection for copyrighted works has a direct benefit to the creators of these works, as well as consumers.” It does not mention that the creators are long since dead, that consumers face higher prices with term extension, and that the change would lock-down the Canadian public domain for two decades.”

The Government of Canada is soliciting views from Canadians by email at NAFTA-Consultations-ALENA@international.gc.ca or on the web.

Here’s what I submitted:

I am opposed to extending copyright to life + 70 years.

At 50 years protection is already ample – a creator’s children, and their children, already directly benefit from royalties collected from a copyrighted work.

The public benefits immensely from work entering the public domain:

  • Consider the works of Shakespeare and Moliere, and their derivative works, that make up so much of the language programs in Canadian schools and our pop culture
  • Consider how our culture benefits from derivative works, and how characters like Sherlock Holmes continue to be adapted for modern audiences
  • When my grandmother spoke of reading the works of Thornton Burgess when she was a child to my children (her great-grandchildren), I can load up their e-readers with all his books. At life+70, there is no way my children could do this with the authors of their generation, like J K Rowling, Melanie Watt, or Mo Willems.

Works locked up in copyright, particularly out of print, remain trapped and inaccessible.

Life +70 will not promote the creation of work – if anything, it will delay the creation of derivative works.

 

James Bond enters Public Domain in Canada – for now

I stumbled on an interesting article, Copyright quirk leaves James Bond up for grabs in Canada, in the Globe and Mail the other day.  In Canada, copyright expires 50 years after an author’s death.  Ian Fleming died in 1964, which means his James Bond series of novels have become a part of the public domain in Canada.

However, this might be short lived. Michael Geist, a Canadian academic specializing in intellectual property and technology law issues, writes that Canada will likely accept extending copyright to life plus 70 years in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade negotiations.  It has been life plus 70 years in the United States since 1998.

Copyright is granted to allow content creators to receive compensation for their work, providing an incentive to create original work.  Many (myself included) would argue that 50 years of protection is ample – if I died tomorrow, my children, and their children, would directly benefit from any royalties collected from my work though my estate.

At some point, society receives a greater benefit from having the work enter the public domain, where anyone can read and re-print the text, and re-use the characters and story lines.  I, for one, have enjoyed the BBC’s contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, made possible by the characters in the public domain.

In Canada, one can now create their own modern take on the James Bond character and novels, without getting permission or paying royalties to the rights holders (note that this does not include the movies).

The Bond books themselves can now be redistributed freely in Canada. Project Gutenberg is an organization that digitizes and distributes public domain texts – the works of Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Sir Arther Conan Doyle are all available.  The Canadian branch of the site, Gutenberg.ca, has already taken advantage of our life+50 copyright and posted a copy of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.

A part of me wants to buy Fleming’s books, scan them, and post them on a Canadian web site while I still can – unfortunately, this site is hosted in the US, so you won’t see them here.