AI and cover art – when is it too far?

If you were to pick up a copy of Sarah J. Maas’ House of Earth and Blood, you would notice that it credits Adobe Stock for the illustration of a wolf on its cover. The illustration matches an image created by user Aperture Vintage and marked as AI-generated on Adobe’s site. The move has led to criticism of both Maas and Bloomsbury Publishing, one of the world’s leading independent publishing houses.

First things first, it must be noted that this means Adobe has notably welcomed AI onto its Adobe Stock platform (although under specific criteria). Such content must be clearly labelled as AI-generated, and contributors must review the terms of any generative AI tools they use to create the images to ensure they have “all the necessary rights” to licence them for commercial use.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the book publishing world, Bloomsbury is iconic. It first rose to mass fame after publishing the Harry Potter series in 1997. Maas is currently one of Bloomsbury’s top authors, best known for her young adult fantasy series like Throne of Glass (2012), A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015), and Crescent City (2020) — the franchise that House of Earth and Blood is part of. She has sold over 12 million copies of her books, many of which have made it to the New York Times bestsellers list, and a televised adaptation of A Court of Thorns and Roses is currently in development at Hulu. 

Since they’re such a major and iconic house, it angers creatives that Bloomsbury has chosen to generate cover art with AI seeing that they can afford to hire artists instead of purchasing Adobe stock, which is where this AI content is from. Further issues arise when we consider that while Adobe’s Firefly AI image generator says it’s trained only on content that’s licensed or out of copyright, such assurances don’t apply to images found in Adobe Stock. Understandably, many artists feel that AI-generated art is unethical as it can profit from the work of human artists. It isn’t clear whether Adobe is assessing images to ensure they comply with its rules about copyright or whether it’s placing the legal responsibilities on creators.

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