When It Comes to AI-Powered Creation Tools, ‘Safe’ Is The New Black

As lawsuits continue to fly over the training of generative AI models and their outputs, companies that make AI-powered creation and productivity tools have begun offering their clients — or perhaps more critically, prospective clients — legal and financial indemnity against any copyright infringement charges that arise from their use.

Last week, Microsoft announced it will indemnify commercial users of its AI-powered Copilot tools now being integrated into its cloud-based Microsoft 365 suite of Office tools, including Word, Powerpoint and Outlook, so long as those customers use the guardrails and filters built in to the platform.

 “[I]f a third party sues a commercial customer for copyright infringement for using Microsoft’s Copilots or the output they generate, we will defend the customer and pay the amount of any adverse judgments or settlements that result from the lawsuit,” Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said in a blog post.

This week, Adobe followed suit, rolling out a range of new AI-powered features for its Creative Cloud suite applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat, and offering to indemnify business users against infringement claims, extending the protection program it announced in June for business users of its Firefly generative AI tool.

“We financially are standing behind all of the content that is produced by Firefly for use either internally or externally by our customers,” Adobe senior VP of digital media Ashley Still said.

Most of the copyright litigation over AI so far has targeted generative AI models directly, such as OpenAI’s GPT and StabilityAI’s Stable Diffusion, not users of downstream applications that incorporate generative AI functionality. But businesses are inherently risk-averse, especially when it comes to litigation, which is expensive and generally unpredictable. And they’re particularly averse to litigation that carries a risk of facing statutory damages, as with copyright infringement. Having spent millions to develop and integrate generative AI capabilities into their cash-cow applications and services, Microsoft and Adobe are understandably concerned that customers could grow gun-shy about using their spiffy new tools, or, equally dangerous, fail to see the value of the higher prices needed to recover that investment.

Offering to indemnify customers against those risks is developing quickly into a key selling point for makers of AI-enhanced creative tools.

“Some customers are concerned about the risk of IP infringement claims if they use the output produced by generative AI. This is understandable, given recent public inquiries by authors and artists regarding how their own work is being used in conjunction with AI models and services,” Microsoft’s Smith acknowledged in his blog post. “As customers ask whether they can use Microsoft’s Copilot services and the output they generate without worrying about copyright claims, we are providing a straightforward answer: yes, you can, and if you are challenged on copyright grounds, we will assume responsibility for the potential legal risks involved.”

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