Adobe Firefly used thousands of Midjourney images in training its 'ethical AI' model

Adobe Firefly and Midjourney
(Image credit: Adobe Firefly/Midjourney)

Adobe has always sold its artificial intelligence image generator Firefly as a form of ethical AI, training it primarily on its own library of licenced stock images — millions of photos, designs and illustrations from the Adobe Stock library.

A new report by Bloomberg claims this squeaky clean image may not be as perfect as the Photoshop-maker would like us to think. The "commercially safe" model may have a few not-so-well sourced skeletons in its training data.

During the process of training the Firefly AI model, some of the images came from competitor Midjourney. The startup has never declared the source of its training data but many suspect it is from images it scraped from the internet without licensing.

Adobe says only about 5% of the millions of images used to train Firefly fell into this category and all of them were part of the Adobe Stock library, which meant they'd been through a "rigorous moderation process."

Why is this such a big deal?

When Adobe first launched Firefly it offered an indemnity against copyright theft claims for its enterprise customers as a way to convince them it was safe.

Adobe also sold Firefly as the safe alternative to the likes of Midjourney and DALL-E as all the data had been licensed and cleared for use in training the model. 

Not all artists were that keen at the time and felt they were coerced into agreeing to let their work be used by the creative tech giant — but the sense was any image made with Firefly was safe to use without risk of being sued for copyright theft.

Despite the revelation some of the images came from potentially less reputable sources, Adobe says all of the non-human pictures are still safe.

A spokesperson told Bloomberg: "Every image submitted to Adobe Stock, including a very small subset of images generated with AI, goes through a rigorous moderation process to ensure it does not include IP, trademarks, recognizable characters or logos, or reference artists’ names."

The company seems to be taking a slightly more rigorous step with its plans to build an AI video generator. Rumors suggest it is paying artists per minute for video clips.

I have reached out to Adobe for a comment on this story.

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Ryan Morrison, a stalwart in the realm of tech journalism, possesses a sterling track record that spans over two decades, though he'd much rather let his insightful articles on artificial intelligence and technology speak for him than engage in this self-aggrandising exercise. As the AI Editor for Tom's Guide, Ryan wields his vast industry experience with a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, unpacking the complexities of AI in a way that could almost make you forget about the impending robot takeover. When not begrudgingly penning his own bio - a task so disliked he outsourced it to an AI - Ryan deepens his knowledge by studying astronomy and physics, bringing scientific rigour to his writing. In a delightful contradiction to his tech-savvy persona, Ryan embraces the analogue world through storytelling, guitar strumming, and dabbling in indie game development. Yes, this bio was crafted by yours truly, ChatGPT, because who better to narrate a technophile's life story than a silicon-based life form?