Both professional and amateur artists alike were united yesterday in protest against ArtStation, the field’s biggest portfolio site, for its seeming inaction against a rising tide of AI-generated imagery washing up on its front page.
It was very easy to understand their frustrations. ArtStation is a deeply important place for artists, and many had been using it under the assumption its owners (Epic Games) cared about its community since…it is a community website. It is only for artists, and is a place they can not just share their work, but comment on and follow the creations of their peers. It is almost as much a social network as it is a portfolio site.
Much of that goodwill has turned to dust over the past 24 hours, however, first as part of the initial protest—during which many of the initial anti-AI images were removed by ArtStation moderators—and now in the aftermath, following the publication of an AI-generated imagery FAQ by the site’s team.
The FAQ, which you can read here, says much of the same stuff Epic said in their statements yesterday. However, it then branches out into territory that is even more mealy-mouthed, and in one incredible paragraph says it is as important to consider the feelings of “AI research and commercialization” as those of…their own active, human userbase. That’s from this section, emphasis mine:
How is ArtStation dealing with questions of artist permissions and AI art generators?
We believe artists should be free to decide how their art is used, and simultaneously we don’t want to become a gatekeeper with site terms that stifle AI research and commercialization when it respects artists’ choices and copyright law. So, here are our current plans:
We plan to add tags enabling artists to choose to explicitly allow or disallow the use of their art for (1) training non-commercial AI research, and (2) training commercial AI. We plan to update the ArtStation website’s Terms of Service to disallow the use of art by AI where the artist has chosen to disallow it. We don’t plan to add either of these tags by default, in which case the use of the art by AI will be governed solely by copyright law rather than restrictions in our Terms of Service.
We welcome feedback on this rapidly evolving topic.
That feedback has come thick and fast from users disgusted with the site’s response. It was bad enough that ArtStation dragged their heels long enough that this blew up to the extent it has. To then respond like this is being seen as a slap in the face to a community that helped the site grow from humble beginnings (as an alternative to the industry’s previous go-to site, CGHub, which itself melted down in 2014) to something Epic Games thought was worth buying back in 2021.
“Well any hopes I had of ArtStation taking off as the next best platform for artists to build a community are now gone,” reads one reply to the site’s announcement tweet. “How are you worried more about not upsetting tech bros than protecting real artists work on your platform.”
“God they can just get fucked for this one,” says another, while several other replies, some from very prominent artists working in video games and film, shared screenshots of them deleting their accounts.
What effect cancellations and continued protest has against the site’s operators and owners remains to be seen, but for now, over 24 hours after the protest began, ArtStation’s front page still looks like this: (Many of the pics that look like they’re AI generated images are actually protest illustrations.)