AI is causing all sorts of problems for the creative community, and theft from human artists is just one of the main problems. But a new service that appeared on Product Hunt is a copyright nightmare in a different way, because this technology, called WatermarkRemover.io, promises to remove watermarks from photos for free.
When a photo is available online, watermarks are often the only thing that protects a photographer’s work. Therefore, the advent of a free tool that can remove them is extremely worrying for the creative community and raises many questions about what the future holds for AI technology regulation. This certainly won’t be added to our list of the best photo apps any time soon.
I really don’t understand anymore. Where are we headed? pic.twitter.com/ALzHDFNZ4AJanuary 24, 2023
The product search page (opens in a new tab) was shared by a well-known designer Tobias Van Schneider (opens in a new tab) on Twitter, with the comment “I really don’t understand anymore. Where are we going?”, and has led dozens of artists and designers to examine the situation in disbelief.
As van Schneider states, the ability to do this is a fairly simple part of the technology out there now. Just as you can erase unwanted objects or people from the background of your photos with the content detection tool in Photoshop or the magic eraser on Google Pixel phones, AI fills in the gaps left by the unwanted part of the photo, and in the case of this tool, that’s a watermark.
But is this legal? Well, removing a watermark without the consent of the original owner is illegal in the US, according to US Copyright Section 1202 Act. (opens in a new tab). So unless you have that consent, using this tool will not be legal in many cases. But the legalities around the situation are murky depending on where you are and what you are using it for. (Note: We are not here to provide legal advice.)
Since the tool itself is not illegal, it is on the user to abide by the rules so that the creator of the application does not worry. Within the comments section of the product, they said: “Given the freedom to remove watermarks, we suggest that our users do not remove watermarks from images for commercial use. However, using non-watermarked images for personal use is totally acceptable.”
On top of that, the FAQ on the website states that users should not “remove watermarks from copyrighted images” and that you should get permission from the original owner before removing any watermarks before using it. for commercial use.
So something feels off, as the video above proudly shows the tool erasing multiple ‘copyright’ stamps in a flurry. It’s an amazing watch.
It is important to note that there are viable use cases for this technology; for example, if you have the consent of the original owner but there is no original file that does not have a watermark. But the whole situation is fraught with ethical and moral creative concerns, many of which are shared in this conversation in the van. Schneider’s Twitter thread (opens in a new tab).
Many concerns relate to the ease with which technology can be misused. “Rather. Remove watermarks from licensed images so you can use them without paying the fee” and “in this case, the obvious use case for this app is copyright infringement” are just two of the concerned comments, with another voice agreeing that “among many blurred lines in AI and copyright these days, this is not one of them.”
Among the outrage, there is a dissenting voice. “Watermarks are worthless, useless, and make your work less valuable,” they say. “The tools for violating your (stupid) watermark only get stronger every day. Create work that speaks for itself and makes consumers demand to know its source.” But what this looks like in practice for creatives who work hard to make a living and stay afloat in an increasingly difficult online landscape is another question.
Artificial intelligence technology demands strong and clear regulation. Right now, no one is really sure what’s allowed and what’s not, as recently demonstrated when a user was banned from Reddit for posting their own AI artwork. Though equally fraught with problems, at least NFTs are a record of ownership. We just hope that there will be a similar solution for AI soon.