The future of music

Stability AI’s head of audio quits over copyright controversies

November 24, 2023
Stability AI's head of audio quits over copyright controversies 1

Key takeaways

  • Ed Newton-Rex, head of Stability AI’s audio team, quit his job for ethical reasons.
  • He cited issues surrounding the company’s use of copyrighted data.
  • Stability AI is known to use millions of copyrighted images to train its models.

Ed Newton-Rex, the former head of audio at Stability AI, has publicly resigned over the company’s use of copyrighted material to train generative AI models. 

This fueled discussions over what constitutes “fair use” and the ethics of using people’s work without explicit permission.

Newton-Rex announced his departure on X, stating, “I’ve resigned from my role leading the Audio team at Stability AI because I don’t agree with the company’s opinion that training generative AI models on copyrighted works is ‘fair use.’”

Stability AI has become pretty notorious this year. Their AI systems, chiefly the Stability Diffusion model, have been widely criticized for using people’s data. Millions of images – and now audio files – have found their way into Stabiltiy’s models, masked under the guise of ‘fair use.’ 

Here are three controversies that underline Stability’s…well, instability. 

  • Executive Departures and CEO Credibility Issues: Stability AI experienced a wave of senior executive departures this year, including the COO and head of research. Additionally, CEO Emad Mostaque was accused of making outlandish claims. Insiders described Stability AI as disorganized and criticized the CEO’s lack of experience.
  • Legal Disputes Over Copyright Infringement: Stability AI, known for its AI art tools like Stable Diffusion, faces legal challenges for allegedly infringing on the rights of millions of artists. The company was accused of training its tools on web-scraped images without permission. Additionally, Getty Images sued Stability AI for reportedly using millions of images from its site without authorization to train Stable Diffusion​​.
  • Public Pressure and Dataset Opt-Outs: Stability AI later allowed artists to opt out of the dataset used to train the next-generation Stable Diffusion model. They set up, where artists could search for their work and request it excluded from the training data​​.

Newton-Rex receives support on social media

Many took to X to commend Newton-Rex. Concept artist Reid Southern said, “Thank you for taking a stand and doing the right thing by leaving Stability.” 

Others, however, questioned his understanding of copyright infringement. X user John Harvey asked, “So, anyone who reads a book, listens to music, watches a movie, etc., that then inspires them to create is infringing on copyright?”

As Newton-Rex points out, this issue isn’t limited to Stability AI. Many companies in the generative AI industry are laissez-faire about using copyrighted material. Numerous lawsuits are lodged against top AI companies, including Stability, OpenAI, Anthropic, and Meta. 

In October, authors including John Grisham and George R.R. Martin joined a lawsuit against OpenAI, alleging that their works were used in training AI models without permission. A federal judge’s ruling hindered a lawsuit against Midjourney, Deviant Art, and Stability AI due to insufficient evidence of copyright infringement.

The issue is it’s extremely hard to prove that AI companies use people’s work to create something that directly replicates it somehow. Plus, they’re often not the ones who scrape the data – they download it from torrent-like sites called shadow libraries, or other companies scrape it on their behalf. 

Newton-Rex believes that generative AI and the creative industries can harmoniously coexist. He cited Stability AI’s partnership with AudioSparx for music licensing as an example of a mutually beneficial approach.

There are no hard and fast answers to this, and AI companies will likely continue until lawsuits are successful.

Sam Jeans

Writer and digital artist who has been covering the latest AI-related news, including generative AI and its influence on the creative industries. Sam plays drums and has been writing for tech and music sites since 2016.

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