Now with added generative AI: a new way to abuse the broken copyright system

As Walled Culture the book (free digital versions available) recounts, one of the many problems with copyright is that it can be used  and abused – for purposes that have nothing to do with its original intent of promoting creativity. One of the best known of these is to force people to take down true statements that are inconvenient for someone, by falsely claiming copyright infringement. An entire industry has sprung up to provide this “reputation management” service.

It should come as no surprise that the recent rise of low/zero-cost generative AI services is now being applied to this field to create a new kind of copyright abuse, as an article on Ars Technica explains. It centres around a DMCA notice sent regarding an image on the Web site Tedium run by Ernie Smith. The extra wrinkle here is that the “Commonwealth Legal” law firm involved here, and its lawyers, seem to be AI generated:

There are quite a few issues with Commonwealth Legal’s request, as detailed by Smith and 404 Media. Chief among them is that Commonwealth Legal, a firm theoretically based in Arizona (which is not a commonwealth), almost certainly does not exist. Despite the 2018 copyright displayed on the site, the firm’s website domain was seemingly registered on March 1, 2024, with a Canadian IP location. The address on the firm’s site leads to a location that, to say the least, does not match the “fourth floor” indicated on the website.

While the law firm’s website is stuffed full of stock images, so are many websites for professional services. The real tell is the site’s list of attorneys, most of which, as 404 Media puts it, have “vacant, thousand-yard stares” common to AI-generated faces. AI detection firm Reality Defender told 404 Media that his service spotted AI generation in every attorneys’ image, “most likely by a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) model.”

An interesting twist is that no money was demanded because of the alleged copyright infringement. Instead, the “Commonwealth Legal” law company demanded that a link be added alongside the image, giving credit to a site that has nothing to do with the actual source. The stories on 404 Media and Ars Technica fill in more of the background to a slightly complicated tale. But beyond the specifics of this case, what is most interesting is how generative AI has been added to the copyright abuse mix to produce a new variant. The technique described above may be the first example of this, but it is unlikely to be the last.

Featured image by Stable Diffusion.

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