Just how ethical is Adobe's Firefly AI image generator?

Adobe Firefly
(Image credit: Adobe)

When Adobe Firefly launched in beta back in March, the creative software giant suggested it had solved one of the biggest controversies in AI art. The idea is that its model is not only safe for commercial use but also more ethical since it only uses public domain work and content from its own stock image library.

Together with the tool's powerful versatility to generate images and text, this has earned Firefly a place at the top of our pick of the best AI art generators. But it seems Adobe Stock contributors are not all convinced by the ethicality of the company's approach.

Adobe Firefly

Adobe Firefly features a range of text-to-image AI tools (Image credit: Adobe)

One of the big controversies in AI image generation is copyright. Models such as Stable Diffusion and Midjourney were trained on billions of images scraped from the internet without artists' permission. But Adobe had a ready-made solution at arm's reach: its own royalty-free image library, Adobe Stock, which contains over 200 million photos, videos, illustrations and 3D assets. 

However, while this might make Adobe Firefly commercially safe, some Adobe Stock contributors are not happy that they weren't consulted and still don't know how they'll be compensated.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock contains photo, video, illustrations and 3D assets (Image credit: Adobe)

Adobe Stock pays contributors a 33% commission when users pay to download their content. However, with Adobe Firefly now in beta, contributors say fewer people are now downloading assets because they can generate 'new' images using the text-to-image tool.

UK-based creator Dean Samed, who says he has contributed 2,000 images to Adobe Stock, told VentureBeat he thought the firm was now competing with its contributors using their own intellectual property. Adobe says it's still working out how it will compensate contributors and that it is considering offering an opt out. But some aren't happy with what they see as a take first, work it out later approach, which leaves artists little room to decide whether or not to accept whatever deal is offered. 

One contributor complained that the move was unannounced and that contributors were unaware their images were being used to train AI. Under Adobe’s Stock Contributor Agreement, users will grant the company “a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, fully-paid, and royalty-free license” to use their work, including for the development of "new features and services.” However, some contributors argue that to be truly ethical, it should have given them the option to opt out in advance.

Image from a tutorial on the a Photoshop update that adds AI generative fill from Adobe Firefly

Adobe has added Firefly's Generative Fill to Photoshop beta (Image credit: Adobe)

According to VentureBeat, Adobe said: “We hear the artists’ concerns. We are also hearing a great deal of excitement for what these new tools can mean in terms of their productivity, and the creativity it can unlock for creators of any skill level.”

In the Firefly FAQs for Adobe Stock contributors, Adobe says: “We are developing a compensation model for Stock contributors, and we will share the details of this model when Firefly exits beta." Elsewhere it notes: "There is no option to opt-out of data set training for content submitted to Stock. However, Adobe is continuing to explore the possibility of an opt-out.”

Firefly is still in beta and it's clear that there's still a lot that needs to be figured out. For now, it remains the most likely solution to tackle the issue of copyright in AI images; Stock contributors will just be hoping that they get some clarity soon. For more on AI image generators, see our pick of the best AI art tutorials and how to use DALL-E 2.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.