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Shutterstock continues generative AI push with legal protection for enterprise customers


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Shutterstock announced today that it will offer enterprise customers full indemnification for the license and use of generative AI images on its platform, to protect them against potential claims related to their use of the images. The company said it would fulfill requests for indemnification on demand through a human review of the images.

The announcement comes just a month after Adobe announced a similar offering, signaling increased competition for enterprise clients who want to create generative AI content that is safe and ethical for commercial use.

According to Shutterstock, the indemnification for its generative AI tool would be triggered as it would for any other commercially cleared content, in accordance with the Shutterstock licensing agreement, which says: “Video and Images in its original unaltered form and used in full compliance with this TOS and applicable law, will not: i) infringe any copyright, trademark or other intellectual property right; ii) violate any third parties’ rights of privacy or publicity; iii) violate any US law, statute, ordinance, or regulation; or iv) be defamatory, libelous, pornographic or obscene.”

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“One of the biggest things that our customers have wanted from us is the same commercial licensing confidence that they get for other Shutterstock content,” Jeff Cunning, VP of product at Shutterstock, told VentureBeat in a video interview. He added that the company had already announced a full indemnity for licensing generative AI images for specific client use cases at Shutterstock’s global conference in May, but now the offering is being rolled out to all customers with an enterprise business account.

“This is no longer a novel technology,” he said. “Now it’s about putting this into real-life business processes.”

Shutterstock has been making gen AI news since October 2022

Shutterstock has been taking steps towards integrating generative AI into its platform since October 2022, when it partnered with OpenAI to allow customers to use DALL·E to generate AI imagery. At the time, the company said it would compensate artists “whose works have contributed to develop the AI models.”

Then, in January, Shutterstock allowed Meta to use its stock datasets to “develop, train and evaluate its machine learning capabilities,” and launched its own AI image generator in January. This was in stark contrast to its competitor Getty Images, which sued Stability AI, the creator of the open-source text-to-image generator Stable Diffusion, for copyright infringement in February.

According to Shutterstock, its AI image generator is “trained on hundreds of millions of
ethically-sourced assets, including from Shutterstock, with the goal of ensuring customers can
generate and license new assets with complete commercial safety while at the same time
protecting and compensating the artists who are behind the content that trained the models.”

“Our focus for our business partners is on protecting them and helping them monetize their content,” said Cunning. “And on the demand side, our focus is on helping [creators] be empowered, to get great content and have that licensing protection. So with generative AI, we’ve focused on making sure that we’re taking this responsible AI approach where we’re working only with legally licensable datasets, and we’re making sure that we’re using it as a way to continue to find new monetization avenues for our contributors’ content.”

In a press release about the indemnification offering, Shutterstock also noted that its Contributor Fund, launched in October 2022, has, to date, “compensated hundreds of thousands of artists for the role their content IP has played in training Shutterstock’s generative technology, with anticipated payments to millions more, and has provided artists with ongoing royalties tied to licensing activity for newly generated assets.”

Cunning said details about the dollar amount compensated have not been publicly shared, but that contributors have received money. “We initially announced that we made our initial payouts in December and that we would continue on to pay out royalties every six months,” he said. “We’ve actually since updated that to do so on a quarterly basis.”

The company’s terms of service for Shutterstock contributors says contributors give Shutterstock the “non-exclusive right to license and use your submitted content” and that contributors “always retain ownership in and to your content.” The terms of service does not specifically address payouts for use of work in generative AI imagery, but this support document says “contributors will receive a share of the entire contract value paid by customers licensing datasets. The share individual contributors receive will be proportionate to the volume of their content and metadata that is included in the purchased datasets.”

Issues related to stock creator compensation have been front and center recently. VentureBeat recently reported, for example, that a vocal group of contributors to Adobe Stock, which includes 300 million images, illustrations and other content that trained the Firefly model, say Adobe trained Firefly on their stock images without express notification or consent and that a flooding of gen AI images into Adobe Stock is cannibalizing the platform.

Cunning said that Shutterstock contributors have the ability to opt in or out of different monetization mechanisms. “If you don’t want your content to be a part of training new AI models, you’re able to opt out,” he said.

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