VP of UK’s top generative AI firm resigns over ‘fair use’ controversy
An executive at one of generative AI’s leading companies has quit over the startup’s controversial use of copyrighted content.
Ed Newton-Rex had been VP of audio at Stability AI, which produces the popular image-generator Stability Diffusion, but resigned due to the firm’s treatment of creators.
“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’,” Newton-Rex announced Wednesday on X.
The “fair use” argument has become a focal point in a pivotal legal battle for generative AI. Several companies in the sector have been sued for scraping copyrighted material from the net to train machine-learning models — without gaining permission from the creators and rights-holders.
In response, Stability AI has evoked the fair use doctrine. The use is fair, the UK-based startup claims, because it is an acceptable, transformative and socially beneficial use of the existing content. On this basis, the company wants training AI on copyrighted material to continue without permission or payment.
It’s an argument that’s frequently made by GenAI proponents — but one that Newton-Rex opposes.
His opposition has a legal footing. The former VP notes that fair use is partly determined by the effect on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work. As GenAI models produce material that can compete with their training data, the justification for fair use appears murky.
In addition to the legal issues, Newton-Rex — who is also a composer — has a moral problem with the practice.
“Companies worth billions of dollars are, without permission, training generative AI models on creators’ works, which are then being used to create new content that in many cases can compete with the original works,” he said.
“I don’t see how this can be acceptable in a society that has set up the economics of the creative arts such that creators rely on copyright.”
Newton-Rex added that he still supports generative AI, but only when artists are treated fairly.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person inside these generative AI companies who doesn’t think the claim of ‘fair use’ is fair to creators. I hope others will speak up, either internally or in public, so that companies realise that exploiting creators can’t be the long-term solution in generative AI.”
TNW has contacted Stability AI and Newton-Rex for comment.