... in photos

Towards an auto-generative Public Domain?

A couple of days ago,  I came across the website generated.photos (via the Verge) a new service that offers 100.000 computer generated portrait images and positions them as an alternative to traditional stock photos. The Verge article highlights the fact that the pictures can be used “royalty free” and the generated.photos website claims that “Copyrights … will be a thing of the past”. This made me postulate on twitter that we might very well be witnessing the emergence of an “auto-generative public domain”.

It has since become clear that the creators of generated.photos do not intended to contribute the output of their algorithms (or for that matter the algorithms themselves) to the public domain: By now the website has been updated to note that the images are available for non-commercial use only. A new terms and conditions page states that “Legal usage rights for content produced by artificial intelligence is a new, largely unknown domain” only to go on to list a number of restrictions on the use of the “materials and software” made available on generated.photos.

As noted in the terms of conditions the copyright status of images (and other types of artworks) that are autonomously created by AI-powered software is largely unsettled. As Andres Guadamuz notes in his excellent overview post on the topic, there are generally two schools when it comes to the question if computer generated artworks are (or should be) protected by copyright. One school argues that copyright protection only attaches to works that have been created by humans and as a result computer generated artworks can by definition not be copyrighted. The other school points out that such works are not created without any human intervention (someone needs to start up the software and set basic parameters) and that whoever initiated the generation of these works should be considered the creator and receive at least a minimum level of (copyright) protection as a reward for their investment.

In the case of generated.photos it is evident that the people behind the project have made a considerable investment into the project. The website states that they have shot more than 29.000 photos of 69 models that have subsequently been used as a training set for the software. Judging by notes on their website, the 100.000 images made available on the website have been created using the open source generative adversarial network StyleGAN that is freely available via GitHub. It remains to seen if creating photos (which are copyright protected) that are then used to train a out of the box GAN does indeed mean that the output of the network is (a) protected by copyright and (b) that the copyright belongs to the entity that trained the GAN.

While it seems to be at least possible that the creators of generated.photos do have a legitimate copyright claim in their output, that does not necessarily invalidate the idea that we are witnessing the emergence of an auto-generative public domain, i.e circumstances in which computer algorithms produce a (possibly endless) stream of artworks, that are indistinguishable from human created works and that are free from copyright and can be used by anyone for any purpose.

In terms of quality, the images provided by generated.photos are still far from indistinguishable from human made stock photos, but it is clear that it is only a matter of time before the technology gets good enough to produce high enough quality outputs at scale. Projects like the next Rembrandt illustrate this development is not limited to stock photography but will likely happen across the full width of human creative expression.

The future: AI driven on demand creation of visual assets

Such a development would dramatically upend a large number of creative professions. It seems like it will only be a matter of time before stock photography and other forms of creative work where the primary draw is not the specific style of a particular creator will be replaced by AI-generated output that will cost almost nothing to create. Once AI powered systems will be able to deliver high quality creative output at zero marginal cost the question if these outputs are protected by copyright or not will be largely meaningless (a single system releasing its output into the public domain will render any attempts to enforce copyright futile).

From the perspective of those making a living by creating stock photos, background music and other forms of creative work that is about to be eaten up by AI, the emergence of this “auto-generative public domain” must feel dystopian. Under these conditions the primary question that we must ask ourselves is not how we can fit works created by computer algorithms within the framework of copyright law. Instead we should ask ourselves how we can create the conditions for human creators to leverage these technologies as tools for their own creative expression. Instead of mourning a future in which humans are no longer employed to shoot endless variations of the same stock photos, we should look out for entirely new forms of creative expression enabled by these tools.

The revolution was televised (and projected from a plastic chair)

12 Feb 2011 | 186 words | egypt photos revolution technology

As one could have expected the big picture has some impressive pictures from the events in egypt on thursday and friday. my favorite picture (love the chair) is this one showing a crowd watching Mubarak’s thursday night television address:

Also really like the mosaic tile facade of the building of state television (especially in combination with the Munthadar Al-Zahdi references) in this shot:

They also have a photo that perfectly illustrates those silly twitter/facebook revolution claims. if this picture says anything in this regard it is that the revolution was largely dependent on mobile phone chargers:

this revolution is powered by mobile phone chargers

and finally this picture clearly gives a pretty good illustration of why the army had no real choice but to side with the people (or at least not against them). which is even more true since all those people are the army’s customers.

nevertheless it should be remembered that Mubarak was an Army (or rather Air Force) man himself before he became president. In this light it might not be the best idea to lay all your eggs into the army’s basket.

How to carry a shark through the streets of Mogadishu

01 Jan 2011 | 38 words | fish food mogadishu photos somalia war

Just found this picture in the ‘the year 2010 in 100 pictures’ issue of the NRC magazine.

Probably my favorite picture from 2010. the NRC magazine shows a tiny little version, click on the image above for high-res.

Exploring the Paris Métro

25 Dec 2010 | 90 words | metro paris photos public transport

Speaking about required reading: head over to sleepycity.net for wonderful (and long) write-up by a guy who has spend the last years exploring (at night on foot) the Paris Métro system. The article is illustrated with a bunch of terrific photos.

Reading this makes me jealous. Personally i have never come any further than maybe 150 meters into the tunnel extending from the ‘Waterloo‘ station in my old hometown of Hannover. These guys claim that they have explored alomst the entire Métro system in Partis (214KM according to wikipedia). respect!

More ruralism and less urbanism

23 Nov 2009 | 73 words | art exhibition photos urbanism

Spend yesterday afternoon at the paris photo exhibition/fair in the über-horrible carrousel du louvre in Paris. The whole thing did not really live up to the hype (and the long queues) but fortunately there was one photo that made it worth having ventured into the belly of the cultural-industrial beast:

‘un poco de historia, la havanna, mayo 1971’ by José A. Figueora.

Bonus: services provided by Dr. Paul of Sese Island, East Afirica

Parallel infrastructures

Over the last year or so Sara (together with Suzanne Valkenburg and Eefje Blankevoort) has explored the world of vacation parks in the Netherlands. Many of these parks that had originally been designed for dutch families to spend their summer vacations have – over the years – attracted new types of temporary and permanent residents: Kenyan athletes competing for price money in dutch running events, Afghani refugees, African agriculture students, Dutch drop outs and polish contract workers and their families. Slowly these vacation parks have morphed into an almost invisible buffer zone, assigned to those people that mainstream society attempts to keep out of sight.

The website www.beloofdeland.org (‘het beloofde land’ (‘the promised land’) is the name of one of these parks) documents 5 of these vacation parks through video, text and photo’s, contrasting their current status with archival material from times when these places where the unchallenged territory of families on vacation. Installations based on this online documentary can be seen in the context of the Made in Arnhem exhibition (from 12 september until 25 october), in the Open Air Museum Arnhem (inside a 1950s vacation house by dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld – from 13 september until October 27th) and in De Verdieping in Amsterdam (from 26 september – October 4th).

Yellow suzuki swifts issued to polish temporary workers by their temp-working agency ‘Exotic Green‘ in front of vacation homes in Patersven/Zundert (foto: Suzanne Valkenburg).

Dark fibre

23 Apr 2009 | 323 words | copyright india film media photos piracy technology

In march we spend a week in bangalore with jamie and the darkfibre crew. we had flown there to take pictures of them while they were shooting for dark fibre (more pictures will become available later).

Dark fibre crew at work on the rooftop terrace of a IT office building in South Bangalore

It was fun and extremely interesting to watch the production from behind the scenes and i am really looking forward to the film (jamie has promised that there will be a trailer on the 13th of may). in the meanwhile there is an interview with jamie and his co-director peter mann on the website of the center for internet and society in bangalore:

‘Dark Fibre’ is set amongst the cablewallahs of Bangalore, and uses the device of cabling to traverse different aspects of informational life in the city. It follows the lives of real cablewallahs and examines the political status of their activities.The fictional elements arrive in the form of a young apprentice cablewallah who attempts to unite the disparate home-brew networks in the city into a grassroots, horizontal ‘people’s network’. Some support the activity and some vehemently oppose it — but what no one expects is the emergence of a seditious, unlicensed and anonymous new channel which begins to transform people’s imaginations in the city. Our young cable apprentice is tasked with tracking down the channel, as powerful political forces array themselves against it. Not only the ‘security’ of the city, but his own wellbeing depend on whether he finds it, and whether it proves possible to stop its distribution. Meanwhile, mysterious elements from outside India — possibly emissaries of a still-greater power — are appearing on the scene. This quest for the unknown channel is reminiscent of a modern-day ‘Moby Dick’, with the city of Bangalore as the high seas and our cable apprentice a reluctant Ahab. The action is a combination of verite, improvisation and scripted action.


09 Mar 2009 | 98 words | photos cycling

A while ago i got a flickr request by someone from a polish cycling magazine called bikeboard.pl if they could use my Ōmiya Keirin keirin photo set to illustrate an article about keirin in their upcoming issue. i said yes and they promised to send me a copy. Today i received two copies of the mag which contains a 7 page article about weird cycling cultures (at least that is what i assume since i do not read polish at all). The three pages dealing with keirin are entirely illustrated by pictures taken from my set:

bikeboard magazine

Computer Science is the Science of the Future [and more pics from Cuba]

07 Dec 2008 | 333 words | future cuba photos technology education

So i finally finished uploading my pictures from cuba to flickr [see here and here]. among them is one more series that deserves special attention. it consists of a number of photos of an abandonened boarding school building that we found along the road from Bayamo to Las Tunas in eastern Cuba. The soviet-style prefabricated builing stands at a stark contrast with the surrounding countryside. When we first stopped there we had no idea what the building was. While exploring the building it became clear that it used to house a boarding school (there is a former boarding school head’s office next to the former communist party of cuba’s office) on the first floor of one of the wings.

I would guess that the building stands empty for at least 5 years or so. Based on this it is in remarkably good condition: Everything that can be reused (such as the window panes or the threads of the second staircase) has been taken away, but for the rest the building is remarkable clean and the walls are still covered with propaganda slogans promising support for Fidel, Raúl & the Revolution.

Most interesting were a number of rooms that seem to have been used as computer science labs. There are two rooms in the vast building that have inscriptions in a programming language (basic?) painted on the walls: In one – otherwise empty – room the inscription on the wall reads:

INPUT [“mensaje”] , PRINT [] OPEN “dispositivo:nombre” FOR AS [see picture here]

and in another room the inscriptions on the wall read:

PRINT [] DIM , INPUT [“mensaje”] , IF-THEN-ELSE IF THEN [else ] [see picture here]

Another wall in the same room also has ‘La Computacion es la ciencia del futuro’ (‘Computer science is the science of the future’) written on on it. What has obviously been intended as a motivational slogan for the pupils now stands in an almost absurd contrast with the surroundings. Guess the future happens elsewhere these days…

Cuban recycling art: beautiful self made race-carts

03 Dec 2008 | 289 words | art cuba improvisation photos urbanism

Cubans are probably the global kings of recycling [not in our spoiled western meaning of the word though, they will happily leave their sandwich wrappers and cigarette boxes lying next to a natural pond in the middle of a national park]. it appears that they can prolong the active life of pretty much any vehicle by decennia using a welding gun and some imagination. The many custom build taxis and busses based on 1950’s american cars are the prime example of this, but there are many other examples that do not appear on you standard postcard [such as containers or chairs]. One particular area where these recycling skills are applied are children’s toys:

In a number of cities we have seen boys racing down small hills (or other slopes) on self constructed carts made from scrap wood and industrial ball bearings:

These carts are extremely beautiful in their simplicity and the kids we saw playing with hem exposed great skill in navigating them down the pothole ridden streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The carts are all variations on a basic design, that consists of a wooden rectangle used as a frame. at the back of the frame there are two ball bearings on an axle and above them is a small plank to sit on. the third wheel is attached to a piece of wood that is attached mid-way to one of the sides of the wooden frame with a singe nail or screw. the piece of wood extends beyond the frame on the other side and the carts can be steered by moving the extended part of this ‘front axle’ forwards or backwards.

More images of carts and kids riding on them on my flickr account.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: