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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

How to Protect Your Art from AI

Updated: Jun 26

Proactive methods to safeguard your artwork against data scraping and machine learning by generative AI




Big Tech Blunders

The recent moves of various Big Tech companies to roll out their AI or machine learning features in all their products have alarmed the creative industry. Instagram, the go-to social media platform of artists, will begin, that is if they haven't already, scraping all user content to train their AI software on June 26, 2024, unless you are able to object on time. Adobe Systems, on the other hand, now require all its users to accept without any option to object their new Terms of Services, which, in summary, automatically gives them the right to train and use in however way they want on anything the user created with their products. Microsoft has also announced their own Windows AI search function aptly called, Recall, which captures screenshots of the user’s desktop every 5 seconds for future usage (i.e. in case you forget something), also giving the users no option to refuse this feature. At the same time, Apple, premiered their very own Apple Intelligence during the WWDC24, which is an on-device AI system—meaning your data is processed through the powerful Apple microchips from the A17 Pro to the M series built into your Apple devices that promises to give the users control over their privacy. But then they partnered with ChatGPT. Hmmm...


Artists and media creators will not remain silent though. Meta and Adobe have received serious backlash from users. You know that this is a serious matter when the social media and tech influencers sphere blows up and triggers mass exodus from users especially high profile ones. Mainstream media outlets have also reported on the issue. Many artists, photographers as well estates such as Ansel Adams Trust, who have been Adobe users since the very beginning have either condemned or left the industry standard creative program, especially with the integration of their own generative AI application Adobe Firefly. Now the US government is suing Adobe for their anti-consumerist subscription policies.


You know that this is a serious matter when the social media and tech influencers sphere blows up and triggers mass exodus from users especially high profile ones.

The past week in particular had been exciting and not to mention tense, as many Instagram artists expressed their outrage at Meta for utter disrespect and disregard of intellectual property amidst the ongoing plight of artists against AI apps such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion that trained on every single artwork and photography found on the internet from public domain to living contemporary artists without their consent to be used in their generative AI art applications. This was the last straw that prompted artists to either delete their Instagram and Facebook accounts or migrate to another social media platform such as Cara, a new creative platform built by artists for artists that promised to protect from and reject AI art. Many artists rely on Instagram for their creative business, especially those that have built a following and network of clients through the platform. But with the fickle and ever changing algorithm of the platform that has been rewarding Instagram users who regularly post short form video formats with increased engagement and following, artists who cannot keep up with the trend will definitely suffer through low visibility and reach.


We are the product they are selling.

We need to remember that Instagram is a corporation and not a charity. Artists may have helped grow the platform into what it is today but advertisers are its lifeline. If you think these Big Tech companies have your best interest in mind in their corporate policies, remember that none of these capitalist corporations owe you anything. You use their platform for free, you pay a different kind of price. Data is money and any information we freely and excessively provide them through their platforms brings them revenues. We are the product they are selling. In this current state of the world we live in, if there is one thing the economy can live without, the arts is the first to go.


Ironically, companies need art to sell their products. But many corporations will also always prefer profit over quality. You as a creative will undoubtedly not stop making art but with AI threatening to compete with human artists, what can you do? I myself was taken aback by all these issues crashing down on us all in a week and had to step back to look at the bigger picture, calm my nerves and rethink my role as an artist so I may find solutions. We may find consolation that at least for now AI apps still have problem with human limbs but it will not take long. The more images these AI programs are fed, the faster they are learning. Suddenly your 4-year art education will be deemed pointless (although some art schools already are regardless of AI intervention). However there are ways to future proof and protect our art and creative businesses from AI. Consider these as your first line of defense until government policies in your countries have come up with full-proof measures against Big Tech and their invasive generative AI systems. Meanwhile, I have compiled a few steps below so read on.



Opt-out from data scraping

Meta products

Don't delete your Instagram and Facebook accounts yet. If you haven’t already, and depending on which region in the planet you reside, you may opt-out from Meta’s AI data scraping if you follow these steps. European Union countries (I live in Germany) have better advantage due to their data privacy laws, while US and other countries outside EU may not be able to object. If you are in the US, watch this reel for instructions on how to opt-out. If in any case this does not work, I suggest you change your profile into a Private account until a preferrable option is available. Rest assured that there are people dedicated enough to put pressure on Meta to amend these policies.


Instagram

For EU residents, follow these steps (my default language is in English but you may find the equivalent terminologies in your preferred language:


  1. In your Instagram profile, click on the encircled icon on the top right corner.


2. Scroll down to About/Info (in German, this is only Info)


3. In the About page, click Privacy Policy.


4. In the Privacy Policy, click on the "right to object".


5. Read through the fine print as this explains how Meta is using your data then scroll down the page.


6. Fill in your details and submit.


After submission, Instagram will ask for an OTP that you should receive into your E-mail. Type the OTP in Instagram and wait for a second E-mail from Instagram on whether they have accepted your objection or not. See the E-mail I have received originally written in German:


Facebook

If you have a Facebook Account and Page dedicated to your art, opting-out is also a good idea. You must do this in your main Facebook account and not on your Page. Almost the same steps are required. The question is where to locate it. Seriously, Meta has made it so inconspicuous for us! You may do this both on the mobile app and desktop. Here are the steps on desktop:


  1. Go to your profile picture on the top right corner, toggle the drop down menu and click Settings & Privacy.



2. Click on the Privacy Center.



3. Toggle the Privacy Policy drop down menu.


4. Select the first topic: What is the Privacy Policy and what does it cover? and then click the "right to object" underlined in red.


5. Fill in the forms and submit.


6. You will again be prompted for an OTP. Check your E-mail inbox for the OTP and type it into your Facebook account. Once done, you will receive another E-mail from Facebook that states their decision to your objection. Here's how mine turned out:



Adobe

Since February 2024, Adobe has sneakily updated their Terms of Use. Up until someone noticed and god forbid read the fine print, Adobe has had these new policies in place without notifying users. I use Photoshop daily and could not remember a pop-up window prompting me to agree to these new TOU. In all honesty, we don't really pay attention to this anymore because we trust Adobe. What does the new update entail? Read below.


Details of the February 2024 updated Terms of Use by Adobe Systems

The company has of late defended and clarified their actions through a Blog post and a series of tweets, which still did not convince anyone. As of this writing, Adobe will release an overhaul of their February 2024 Terms of Use on June 18th to appease disgruntled customers and gain their trust again. Remember to always read the fine print, though. In the mean time, if you are an Adobe user like myself, follow these steps as advised by photographer and media creator Kevin Patrick Robbins also Studio Builder. You will need to do this on both your Creative Cloud Account and Photoshop settings.





Also note that country and/or region as well as operating systems settings will differ. In my case, a Mac user, I found the necessary commands in the Photoshop 2024 main tab. Go to Settings and select Product Improvement.


Deselect the "Yes, I'd like to participate." In some cases, this box was automatically ticked. When I opened Photoshop after I have heard about this news, this box was not selected. Luckily! So I left it as it was.


It is also good to point out that Adobe does not scan nor train content stored on your local drive, which is how I have been set-up anyway. Phew! Content uploaded in Creative Cloud is not safe. If possible, migrate your files now into your local drives and if sharing with other users, either use another cloud service provider or use physical drives to transfer files until this issue is resolved. Some have jumped ship into other programs like Affinity or Procreate, which maybe suitable options. In my case, with deadlines looming, I do not have the luxury to learn a new program. Besides most clients use Photoshop or InDesign in their workflow and will require native formats from these software.





Poison your art

With the help of artists, a group of researchers from the University of Chicago developed the programs, Glaze and Nightshade, that enable you to add a layer of protection to your art in the digital domain. I have downloaded these free applications and have been testing them for a week with good results—that is in terms of visible artifacts. In a nutshell, Glaze is meant to defend your artwork from generative AI apps from mimicking your style and Nightshade is designed to attack generative AI apps by cloaking your artwork to look completely different from your image. The changes are minimally visible to the human eyes but AI algorithms “see” digital images differently in that they analyze codes, bits and bytes. The pixels are rearranged to distort your digitized artwork. For example if you use Glaze on a digitized Mona Lisa, the resulting image analyzed by AI data scrapers will look like a cubist painting of a Mona Lisa. On the other hand if you use Nightshade on your digitized painting of a dog, the AI algorithm might analyze it as a door handle.


How do these work? The developers of Glaze and Nightshade exploited the known weakness of machine learning models or AI, called adversarial perturbations, which is apparently extremely difficult to solve. The programs attack these models to cause them to malfunction or make false predictions. Further reading about the programs is available on their website. Meanwhile let's have a look at the tests I made with my own art.



Clockwise from top left: Low-res web-ready render of the digitized watercolor artwork compared with the glazed and shaded versions using default to low settings from the programs. The artifacts are noticeable on the flat areas such as the sky.


As you can see, there are noticeable artifacts especially on the flat areas of the picture as in the sky. The Nightshade developers explained this in their findings. Flat areas will have pixel distortions. Out of the three poisoned images, I am most satisfied with the glazed image. I even posted the same image on my Instagram to see if the artifacts are visible on a mobile screen. It is negligible. So find out which setting intensity is most acceptable for you. It is also worth noting that you can apply both Glaze and Nightshade on your image provided that you do this after you have finalized your artwork. Poisoning should be the last stage. You can, however, "crop it, resample it, compress it, smooth out pixels, or add noise, and the effects of the poison will remain" according to the Nightshade team. Even screenshots of your image displayed on monitors are poisoned! The developers advise to apply both to your artwork that are posted online.


At the lowest intensity and slowest render quality, it took about 18 minutes to render one image.

I have not tested my artwork on any generative AI art app for obvious reasons: I do not want to use them nor feed my body of artwork into them! Moreover, if you want to use the free web service WebGlaze, you need to disclose that you do not use any AI app because it is an invite-only system aimed at any human non-AI artist who does not use powerful desktop computers.


As for those who use PCs, you need powerful GPUs on a desktop PC due to the render time and processing requirements. Render times may take up to 32 minutes on Glaze and 180 minutes on Nightshade depending on your PC's capability. My own tests on my MacStudio M2 Max took up to18 minutes render time at the lowest intensity. I am able to run the programs in the background while I paint. The programs are still not available as a mobile app.


Similar tools that are also available to download free for Windows and Linux users are Mist and Anti-Dreambooth. ArtShield is another web-based protective tool similar to WebGlaze.


These are protective tools available for us artists right now and the best first line of protection against AI. So I advise you to take advantage of them and integrate into your workflow prior to posting online.




Protect your online portfolio

Watermark your artwork

Getty Images had raised an infringement lawsuit against Stability AI for blatantly training on their extensive library of photographs when an AI generated image displayed a distorted logo of the stock photo company. Which prompts me to suggest to add a logo or your signature on every artwork you post online. This is a common practice since ages and should be a basic step of your digital workflow. If you do not have a logo, just use your name or even your digitized signature or handwriting of your name will do. Here's how I created my logo.


Copyright your metadata

When using Photoshop, you can also add a copyright info into your file's metadata. Under the File tab, select File Info.



A window will pop-up where you can input the copyright info you need. You can save it as a template for repeated use and then click OK. You will see a the copyright symbol added to the file name. Removing this copyright notice by anyone other than yourself is considered a criminal offense.




Replace your website images with your poisoned art

Once you have watermarked, copyrighted and poisoned your digitize artworks, replace all the images on your website. You can also post these images now on your social media for peace of mind. You may choose to delete all your previous posts or archive them instead. Consider your actions well, though. Before Meta had these AI policies placed, they surely have already trained on our content as a test run. But we can never be too sure so you decide. Personally, having to redo all of that is tedious, since I have actual work to do. Also if I have poisoned all of my artworks, I would not also openly announce so as not to deter malicious bots. Let them come and have a taste of my poison!




Have I been trained?

So how do you know if your website has been scraped by AI bots? The web tool created by Spawning Have I Been Trained? can provide you extra peace of mind. You simply type in your domain name and you will receive notification if your website had been indeed trained by AI and fed into open large-scale dataset for image-text pairs like LAION-5B. If not, you will see a result similar to the screenshot above.


There is consolation again to know that I am not a popular artist. Those that were victimized by this data scraping are living contemporary digital artists and photographers, who have large followers and client base. They are basically considered superstars in the digital art world. Their styles are well known to fans, so no wonder AI art app users would want to get hold of their art or make their own AI-aided versions. Seeing the results of the text prompt might be fun especially when there is no one to police the AI prompter. Know that there is a thin line between fan art and plagiarized art.


Even Midjourney developer, David Holz, holds no responsibility for infringement of copyrights. Read his response when asked if he sought consent to use artists' work to train their AI here.


“It would be cool if images had metadata embedded in them about the copyright owner or something. But that’s not a thing; there’s not a registry. -David Holz, Midjourney founder

The THING is you can embed copyright info into your images as I have shown you previously. So do that.



Leave Instagram or don't

Cara is the latest "Instagram killer" with the exception of it being adamantly anti-AI. It is a social media and portfolio platform developed by a photographer, Jingna Zhang, who has been battling and has won numerous copyright court cases against the plagiarism of her work. Due to her popularity, her art is a hot target for AI data scraping.


The aim of Cara is to host artists wanting of a safe haven for their artwork against anything AI as well as needless bombardment of advertisements. It is quite in its infancy—launched in 2022, and so its stability and continuity as an image-based social media platform is still shaky. I've been on it for a week and even though I like the intuitive design with extra features not available on Instagram like adding links and job posts, it has been slow and crashes were rampant. Understandably so, it has received a massive influx of users from 40K to 800K in just a week!


Nevertheless, Cara has gained enough traction that even artists agents, art directors and even publishers have also signed up. Pesky NFT collectors keep popping into my inbox, which I hope in time will lead into big named galleries, museums and serious art collectors. Dying and dilapidated cities were revived by the Arts. It is a known human condition. Where artists go, the society will follow. Just look at Berlin, Johannesburg and Detroit. I just hope that Cara survives and live up to its core mission.


Where artists go, the society will follow.

That being said, social media platforms are impermanent and less reliable than your own website as your main online portfolio. This also fortifies my earlier argument in this post about building your own website, that owning one gives you more control. Of course it all depends on your goals. How do you use social media platforms and website for your creative business? What is its value?


I have been lacking in my engagement lately due to my more demanding work schedule. I can even afford to not post in a week up to a month because my art business does not rely on these engagements. I would lose 2-3 followers and then gain back the same amount within a week, so no growth there and it’s okay. I’m thankful for followers who have stuck with me from the beginning.


Know that my agency, Astound US, did not find me on Instagram. Instead they found me on a more niched group of children's books creators, the Society of Children's Books and Illustrators. But that only emphasizes the point that you need to find your niche or market and relevant people, potential clients, will find you for commissions.


Social media for me is just entertainment. I do love discovering and connecting with artists as much as admiring beautiful art. Compared to all my social media platforms, my website has seen consistent growth in site visitors due to my Blog posts. I get about 3,000 visitors monthly. It has also been listed many times as one of the best online art portfolios since 2021—around the time I began getting book illustration projects!



Copyrighting your work

Remember, you own your artwork until 70 years after your death and/or the creation of said artwork when it enters the public domain. Everything you create and send out to world is automatically copyrighted unless of course you sell your rights as the creator on a work-for-hire project or if you are employed as an in-house artist by a company that commissions art. To allow you easier claim during intellectual property lawsuits, you can choose to register your copyright at the copyright office in your country of residence. For example in the US, you can find out how you can register your artwork here. In UK, the information you will need is all in here. In Germany, here is a lengthy outline of everything you need to know and so on.


What you can also do is add a layer of protection into your contracts, i.e. insist on an anti-AI clause, which states that your client is not allowed to feed your artwork into generative AI systems. My latest book contracts include this clause already implemented by my agency. Some publishers also include a non-usage of generative AI applications and methods in creating the artwork for the book, which is both progressive and preventative. I have also learned that many art buyers now prefer hand-made or traditional techniques—again a big plus if you already are using watercolor or any traditional media.


Another perk if you are an agented artist is that your agents can police your artwork and send a cease-and-desist order to anyone found to be infringing your work.




Keep making art and showing up

It is bad enough that social media fry our brains, studies from 2023 have shown that AI promotes laziness among students. But the younger generation now is ever more reliant on technology and AI will be their norm. There is no doubt that AI is a tool or an assistant to humans. It is not suppose to replace humans. It has been there since computers were invented only that its current form and evolution threaten security, privacy and employment. We cannot talk about its great potential without outlining its dangers.


In many ways, it is a great advancement in several sectors of the human society except for the creative industry. Ever since humans created cave paintings, our artistic abilities and livelihood have never been challenged in this magnitude. Instead of promoting creativity and originality, bad actors in generative AI have only been plagiarizing human creators by remixing already existing works. It is a different scenario when the AI art was made from scratch through complex coding written by a human being.


Let's just call AI art what it is, subpar derivative copycats lacking of heart and soul.

Regardless how powerful these AI programs can be, truth is no one can truly copy you. Even you cannot copy your own work, dot by dot, stroke by stroke. A style may look similar but it will always be in want of something. What made us humans is our complex brain—our ability to create and the propensity for imagination.


We cannot allow algorithms and corporate greed dominate us. People are fighting against the negative impacts of generative AI and are taking proactive measures. The European Union is an example of a progressive governing body that protects its citizens from AI through the AI Act and its Digital Markets Act.


In the mean time, while governments around the world are scrambling to come up with AI regulations that get implemented and actually work, all you can do as an artist is to carry on making art, be the best you can be in your chosen medium and hone your artistic style—heck have more than one style! Support efforts that aim to protect humans from AI misuse. You cannot be discouraged by a robot, which is by the way created by humans.





What for is AI art?

Do we even need AI? In many ways, yes. An article in Medium answers this question:


AI can be used to automate repetitive tasks that humans are not capable of doing. These tasks include data entry, transcription, and even customer service. AI is already being used to assist doctors to diagnose diseases like cancer. AI can help us understand how the world works.

But in the context of art, making art is neither a repetitive task nor does it require automation—unless the intention of the artist is to include automation in the process. Artists like Refik Anadol, whose groundbreaking lava lamp like AI art installations in MOMA captured the art world’s attention as well as any visitor of the museum. Although his process is comparable to the kind of automation AI art applications are doing, his intent is to create and not copy—let alone steal from another artist and claim ownership. He created the codes that scraped all of MOMA's digitized art collection to produce an entirely different ephemeral artwork. Users of AI art apps did not. It’s like pressing a microwave button to heat store-bought food that you did not cook.


We don’t need AI in everything but capitalists surely create the need for it. They convince you to at least have a taste of its potential power and what better way to entice you than through visuals—AI art. Technology is democratizing art so we, the public, buy or spend more time using their products in order to push advertising of products we don't need!


You must be familiar with people telling you how much they wish they could draw but just could manage stick drawings. I’m always tempted to respond “you don’t have to know how to draw” for the same reason that I do not have to know how to use SAP. While it’s true—and I believe that everyone has the potential to be artists in the same way that anyone can be a doctor or an astronaut, not everyone possesses the ability and discipline to pursue this profession. It is extremely difficult to be an artist! You know that. No wonder some people just seem to be content to copy or automate art making!


So ask yourself, for whom is AI art and for whom is your art?


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