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Startup exec quits, says generative AI ‘exploiting creators’

An executive at artificial intelligence startup Stability AI resigned last week over the use of copyrighted material to develop AI tools — publicly taking sides in a debate that’s become central to the business model of the fast-growing industry.

Ed Newton-Rex, who was Stability’s vice president of audio, said Wednesday at the Cerebral Valley AI Summit in San Francisco that he left the company because he doesn’t believe that it’s legal to develop AI models using copyrighted content. Generative AI, one of the fastest-growing areas of artificial intelligence, functions by using vast swathes of data to train computers to generate content — like a poem, a song or an image — in response to a user’s prompt.

Stability, which is known for the generative AI image tool Stable Diffusion, maintains that its practices are protected under the “fair use” doctrine of US copyright law, and asserted as much in a letter last month to the US Copyright Office. Stability and other AI companies are currently facing several lawsuits from artists and others who claim their work has been unfairly scraped and used to build artificial intelligence systems.

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Newton-Rex oversaw Stability’s music generation product, Stable Audio, which trains models on a database of material that they licensed for use. But many AI products use copyrighted material for training without paying for it. Newton-Rex called that practice “wrong” because the models create derivative content that can compete commercially with the original works.

“Exploiting creators can’t be the long-term solution in generative AI,” he wrote in a resignation statement.

That interpretation of copyright law is not commonly held among big tech companies, Newton-Rex explained in an interview. “My impression is that generally, everyone’s gunning toward the biggest models that will be as powerful and as fast as possible,” he said. Most companies in the field have a practical incentive to take a liberal interpretation of the “fair use” copyright exception. “It’s common sense how you reach that conclusion if you want to reach that conclusion,” he added.

Newton-Rex is the latest in a string of executive exits from Stability. Its general counsel and human resources chief left last month, and at least six senior hires departed in the months before that. Current and former employees, investors, vendors and contractors previously told Bloomberg that the company is disorganised, and that it has had substantive disagreements with its investors.

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