Whoo boy. This is not an easy post for me to write, but it’s unfortunately necessary.
Those of you who have been around awhile know my handler/enabler/Platonic Murder Wife/editor/cover artist/graphic designer Skyla Dawn Cameron. She is the person behind Indigo Chick Designs, and is amazing at All The Things.
This morning we had a conversation, and while it was a hard one and a tough-but-necessary decision was made.
That decision is to pull the cover art for my upcoming release, The Silverthorn Protocol.
It was brought to my attention that the art used for the cover is very likely AI-generated content (also known as “artificial intelligence” assisted technology). This is problematic for many, many reasons, and I (and many other authors) will have no part of my work associated with or generated by it.
Now, for both my and Skyla’s parts, we were unaware of image chosen for the Silverthorn cover being (potentially — there’s evidence but no proof/credit given) generated by AI. The account/portfolio of the person the image was purchased from is known for their stock photography, and the image was not tagged or listed as AI generated in any way. There’s no practical way of determining 100% that AI was used, but evidence points to that being the case.
The potential is enough for me. I’m pulling the cover. Neither I nor Skyla want to be associated with anything to do with AI-generated content. I’ll let her explain in detail.
From Skyla Dawn Cameron of Indigo Chick Designs:
As both an author (Skyla Dawn Cameron) and graphic designer (Indigo Chick Designs), I am very strongly, vocally against the use of AI-generated text and images for a variety of reasons. What it comes down to, for me, is that it is not ethical from any angle, at this given point in time. Training data was not ethically sourced but stolen from actual artists, the humans who do the training are underpaid and exploited labour, and there is a massive environmental impact from the electricity required to the water used to cool data training centers. Until these areas are corrected, whether it’s technically legal or not, I do not find it ethical to use, particularly for commercial work. The tools we use as digital artists, whether it’s brushes in Photoshop, stock photos we manipulate, or the complex figures rendered via programs like Daz3D, are all created by human artists. These tools all employ and pay human artists. Within the arts, we writers, artists, designers, voice actors, photographers, and others, all form a sort of ecosystem and have symbiotic relationships. We might live in a capitalist hellscape, but we’re there together and have an obligation, not only as artists but as human beings, to look out for our neighbours and have solidarity with other creators. It is the only true way to not just survive but thrive in our industry.
Those are my general thoughts.
Now, as to the specifics: although I have been suspicious of stock uploaded this year and have found many that seemed to be AI-generated mixed in with regular photos and illustration, I confess I had not been thinking that last year people were passing AI-generated images off as regular illustrations. Shutterstock has a built-in generator, which I have never used. Many images are also watermarked and very small until you buy them, so it can be easy to miss certain details. Shutterstock doesn’t provide data to users on when an image was uploaded (that I can find) but a reverse image search puts this one at September of 2022.
With the speed at which things have been happening in this area of the industry, I confess I’m still learning how to spot AI-generated images at first glance. I’m better now than I was, but because it had never even occurred to me to watch for this issue when browsing stock for the Silverthorn cover last year, it escaped my notice.
A few days ago, I was making some premade covers out of previously downloaded stock, and got looking at some I’d bought with my Shutterstock subscription over the past year–one or two struck me as a little off. And it was at that point I thought back to the Silverthorn cover and the extra painting I had done to fix up weird little details we’d noticed on the larger image, and I had the thought it could be unlabeled AI. After some investigating, I came to the conclusion that was the case, and disclosed it to Dina, as my feeling was that neither of us would be comfortable with this remaining on the cover.
So here we are. It is what it is, and all we can do is correct the mistake now that we’re aware.
I have always been firm in my statement that I will not, ever, willingly or knowingly use AI-generated images in my cover designs. But this shows that even I can be mistaken, and as the quality improves over the next year, and the unwillingness of others to disclose that they did not create images themselves, it now falls on designers to be as diligent as possible. We will have to actively investigate any images we use that were uploaded in the past two years (and, again, that involves a reverse image search in some cases), investigate artists whose portfolios we’re unfamiliar with, and learn a whole new skillset to find the various tells that an image isn’t made by a human. This not only heaps more work on designers–time that, eventually, clients will be paying for as they have to increase their rates–but affects all the skilled photographers and digital artists who are attempting to build a career and will be met with suspicion if they’re not previously established.
And in the end, the only ones getting rich are the techbros exploiting human labour and the environment.
So to this end, I ask for grace for designers and for people who shop at stock sites, where these images are uploaded unlabeled. And grace for authors who often don’t know either. We’re all doing the best we can. And I hope that, fellow cover artists and designers, that you also disclose to your clients the moment you have any suspicions. This is going to cost everyone time and money and a lot of frustrations, but our integrity is all we really have in this industry and we must protect it at all costs.
And there you have it.
I have taken down the preview cover images and will be ordering new promo materials for the book release. While this change is upsetting (that was a GORGEOUS cover, damn it!), I am truly the person least affected by this. All I have to do is order new bookmarks/postcards and change a few display images/uploaded files. I’m only out a little money. Skyla is the one who has to design a whole new cover with images she now has to verify are not AI-generated (some bookselling platforms like Amazon now have a requirement to disclose that your book was or was not made with AI-generated anything, from text to illustrations to cover art), costing her time, and her time is money.
Whatever your personal feelings on AI and its emerging use in various platforms, please consider the issues raised in this note before deciding to support it.
I’m very grateful Skyla brought this to my attention before Silverthorn was released, and I have time to correct it before anyone besides me pays for it. (Literally, I spent money not only for the cover art, but the promo merch. And yes, I feel gross now having unwittingly supported a deplorable industry, thank you!)
I know the new (ethically sourced, artist supporting) cover will be just as gorgeous and amazing, as all Skyla’s covers are. I’ll share it when it’s available. (Yet another thing costing her time, which is also her money; she has to fit a new cover into her already full schedule thanks to this person not disclosing their use of AI, which puts everyone behind on their scheduled things, not the least of whom is her! I’m so angry at that stock photo person for not tagging their work!)
So that’s all for now. I know you all weren’t expecting something like this, especially from me, but if this post helps even one person, it’s worth it.
Until Next Time,