adobe training its AI algorithms

Here at the photography blogosphere, a few blogs picked up on a tweet from calling Adobe out for having a policy that allows them to use users’ photos stored on the cloud to train its AI systems.

Since then, Adobe has released a statement to Peta Pixel telling that they do not use users’ data for Experimental Generative AI features.

I am not an attorney, but I can see at least two reservations here with the words “Experimental” and “Generative”. But let’s put this aside. This blog is not about if Adobe is using your photos for AI-training purposes or not. It’s about whether it is OK for Adobe (or any other company for that matter) to use your content, specifically your photos, to train its AI algorithms.

[I am taking a side tour here to acknowledge that AI training is not the only issue here. DPReview raises some very valid privacy concerns in line with the same policy, and I am eager to see the update with Adobe’s response]

This becomes an even more serious issue when we consider copyright law. In a nutshell, here is the question: If an AI was trained on your images, do you own any copyrights in the final image generated by that AI?

I am not only saying it is ok to train AI’s with everyone’s public photos. I am saying that we have been doing it for years. Willingly and enthusiastically. There is simply no other way.


There is a great piece from Seth Godin that illustrates this point perfectly. Godin says that what AIs are doing now is exactly what art students have been doing for centuries. Only that the AIs are doing it faster, cheaper, and in a more accessible way:

… some creators are up in arms. They say that if an AI is trained on their photographs, their architectural designs or their cartoons, it’s a form of theft…

This doesn’t hold up.

If an art student studies all of Picasso’s 10,000 paintings and then creates a new painting that is clearly based on them, we call this the advancement of culture. The same is true if a writer uses a word that was coined by Shakespeare, or if a graffitist is clearly inspired by Shepard Fairey.

That’s how culture evolves. Taking an idea isn’t theft. Taking an idea is an oxymoron. Ideas belong to all of us.

We couldn’t and wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s no way to bake a cake, drive a car or write a sentence without using what came before. – Seth Godin

To the point, computers have been doing some tasks faster and better than humans for a while now. We never complain that a computer can do complex spreadsheets in a heartbeat. We also train all our students with the works of the great ones, be they Picasso, Da Vinci, Leonhard Euler, Charles Dickens, and George Orwell (pick your field and taste).

The fact that we can now apply Learning From the Masters with Computer Efficiency only changes time scales, not anything else.

And Seth Godin concludes with a statement that resonates well with me:

The only thing that allows creators to create is the work that came before. When we create, we add to that work so that others can do the same

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