So, you jumped onboard the latest social media fad, posting AI-generated portraits from the app Lensa? We hate to burst your #trending bubble, but you shouldn’t have – not if you care about creative rights.
Admittedly, we can’t blame you too much. As often happens online, you thought you were getting something cool for free or cheap. Unwittingly, you supported a company that may be profiting from infringement.
Once you understand how this can occur, you’ll be prepared to avoid similar issues in the future. We hope you’ll also join us in demanding stronger protections for artists’ jobs.
What You Thought Was Happening
One day in late 2022, you were supposed to be doing something reputable like work or chores. Instead, you couldn’t resist taking a gander at your 21st-century watering hole, a social media network.
There, you expected to find cute animals, DIY crafts, or exalted beach bodies. But instead, your feed was overrun by illustrations of friends as astronauts, superheroes, and wondrous beings.
Naturally, you wanted your own array of Magic Avatars, so you installed the free Lensa app. You balked at subscribing for $7.99/month or $29.99/year, but fortunately, there was a 7-day free trial.
Sweet! you thought. After my fantasy makeover, I’ll be more viral than a Kardashian in a leopard-print bodysuit on Christmas Eve.
You registered for the trial and uploaded 10-20 selfies, as recommended. For a moment, you weren’t willing to pay $3.99 for 50 Magic Avatars (in addition to the subscription fees) – but the allure of the potential impressions and engagements proved too powerful, and you surrendered the cash. In time, your Avatars were delivered.
After review, you posted a selection of portraits that seemed cool or sexy. (If you’re a woman, some might have been too sexy.) Then, you compulsively checked your phone for Comments and Likes, which gratified you for a few seconds.
Totally worth it, you sighed as you began scouting out your next dopamine hit.
What Actually Happened
Your belated question: What the hell is Prisma Labs?
Answer: A privately held startup founded in 2016 and headquartered in Silicon Valley.
As another gift to this unknown entity, you trusted it with biometric data – i.e., your face. You consented to the collection of data about you and your device. Furthermore, you agreed the data could be shared with tech behemoths including Meta.
Oh God, you’re now thinking – if you weren’t alarmed already.
While you waited to see your Magic Avatars, Lensa did 120 million billion unspecified thingies to your selfies. It “learned” to do them by analyzing a dataset scraped from the web – namely, LAION-5B.
Interestingly, that dataset included copyrighted works from countless artists – that Lensa used without permission – to generate your Magic Avatars. Now that Prisma Labs has analyzed your photos, its algorithms could be stealing bits of you, too.
In a tweet and FAQ, Prisma Labs claimed that it deletes user photos right after delivering a set of Magic Avatars. We’re not reassured… because the Terms of Service stipulate that Prisma Labs may use uploaded photos when “researching, developing and improving our existing and new products.”
More fundamentally, we’re not convinced that AI-generated art is distinct from copying, despite what Prisma Labs and similar companies say.
Another Rotten Deal, But Worse
This story of AI running amok is NOT a robot uprising from a sci-fi thriller. It’s a shitty scam – remember, you paid $3.99 to give Prisma Labs 10-20 photos. While you were led to believe Lensa was giving you something valuable, you were duped into driving down the economic value of creativity.
Tragically, this deal was worse than usual for creatives online. In You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier explains how the internet economy diminishes our humanity. It presses us to share our “creative bits” – unique words, photos, or videos – for free, and in the process it makes owners of computing networks rich as they mine our personal data and sell targeted ads.
That’s the standard scam for internet businesses like Google and Facebook, which pretend to give people tools for personal growth and self-expression while it is actually all about monetizing their creativity and data.
With the Magic Avatars product, Prisma Labs lowered the bar. You turned over personal data, and you licensed photographs of your own face for ZERO dollars. Prisma Labs persuaded you to pay for the privilege.
Now that the transaction is laid bare, we doubt you’re ready to embrace a new, AI-powered era of devalued humanity. It’s high time for a better deal – one that respects our creativity.