Getty Images has filed a lawsuit in the US against Stability AI, the creators of the open source AI image generator Stable Diffusion.

The stock photo company accuses Stability AI of “brazen infringement of Getty Images’ intellectual property on a staggering scale.” It claims that Stability AI copied more than 12 million images from its database without permission or compensation, and that the startup violated both the company’s copyright and trademark protection.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an ongoing legal battle between the creators of AI generators and rights holders. AI tools require illustrations, artwork, and photographs to use as training data, and are often taken from the Internet without the author’s consent.

“We can confirm on Friday Getty Images filed a complaint against Stability AI, Inc. in the United States District Court in Delaware,” Anne Flanagan, vice president of communications at Getty Images, said. “Getty Images has also filed a Claim in the High Court, which has not been served at this time. As is customary in the UK, on January 16 Getty Images sent and requested a response to a letter before action from Stability AI Limited within a customary timeframe. Stability AI Limited have confirmed receipt of this letter.”

Andres Guadamaz, a British academic specializing in artificial intelligence and copyright, tweeted that Getty’s complaint was “very strong”:

“The complaint is technically more accurate than the class action lawsuit,” said Guadamaz. “The case will likely rest on the [copyright] infringement claim, and the defendants are likely to argue fair use. Could go either way.”

Aaron Moss, a copyright attorney at Greenberg Glusker and publisher of the blog Copyright Lately, wrote on Twitter:

“Getty’s new complaint is much better than the overreaching class action lawsuit I wrote about last month. The focus is where it should be: the input stage ingestion of copyrighted images to train the data. This will be a fascinating fair use battle.”

Another argument that Getty Images makes relates to their trademark. Stable Diffusion is well-known for displaying the company’s watermark on some of its images, and Getty claims that the appearance of this watermark on “bizarre or grotesque images, dilutes the quality of the Getty Images Marks by blurring or tarnishment.”

Getty Images is suing Stable Diffusion for copyright infringement

Example of a “grotesque” AI-generated image with Getty Images watermark

The full Getty Images complaint can be found at the link.