AI image generation and ethical considerations

Torresburriel Estudio
6 min readMar 20, 2024

The incursion of artificial intelligence into the realm of visual creation has opened a new chapter in how we approach advertising campaigns, photography and illustration contests, or the use of images in digital products, and has raised significant ethical debates.

Photo by Aideal Hwa onUnsplash

In the online world, AI offers an unprecedented tool for generating images that capture the essence of a brand with precision and creativity, allowing companies to stand out in a saturated market. Its use in photography and illustration contests has raised questions about authenticity and originality, challenging the traditional norms that value direct human creation.

This technological disruption forces us to reconsider the criteria for evaluation and to establish new guidelines that address the participation of AI-generated works. Beyond its practical application, a deep ethical debate emerges about authorship, intellectual property rights, and the impact on the creative industry.

One of the first questions that arise is: how do we balance innovation with respect for artistic tradition and the rights of creators? The answer to this question will shape the future of design, advertising, and art, in a world where artificial intelligence has become an indispensable and, at times, controversial collaborator.

In this emerging scenario, ongoing dialogue between technology experts, artists, legal professionals, and the public is crucial for navigating these uncharted waters responsibly and with a vision for the future.

Navigating the future of creation with Artificial Intelligence

Will we all end up creating the same images? Do we have regulations for the use of these images?

Who owns the copyright? The company that creates the AI, the person who inputs the orders to generate the image, or the authors who have created the previous images that the AI feeds on?

Do companies pay copyright fees for all the images they use to train the AI? Is the way we are using these images ethical?

And if I submit a piece to a contest created by artificial intelligence, what happens? Can they be registered as intellectual property?

These and many other questions arise whenever we discuss this topic.

Since almost two years ago, when these tools were made public (in 2022), and some people have even requested a pause in their development.

The European Commission, for example, has already proposed the first legal framework on AI, addressing its risks and positioning Europe to play a leading role globally on this issue.

On the other hand, more than a hundred figures coordinated by the entrepreneur and writer Diego Hidalgo, prominent nationally and internationally, have supported the OFF Manifesto. This text highlights the fragility of humanity and its institutional structures in the face of the advancement and increasing autonomy of technology, calling for more firm and bold measures.

As we have discussed on other occasions, at Torresburriel Estudio, for the time being, we have chosen not to use images created by Artificial Intelligence, at least until all these ethical and legislative questions are fully resolved.

Ethics and transparency in the use of AI in advertising

Artificial intelligence offers artists a valuable source of inspiration and efficiency in their creative processes. However, controversy arises when using images created by this technology in advertising contexts, especially if they are used by public entities.

In an attempt to celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, 2024, the Spanish Ministry of Youth and Childhood launched a campaign on social media that featured well-known Disney characters in scientific settings under the slogan “It’s not magic, it’s science.”

Tweets from the Spanish Ministry of Youth and Children for Women and Science Day, February 11, 2024.

However, the initiative received significant criticism for the use of artificial intelligence to create the images. The controversy led many voices to express their dissatisfaction, arguing that the campaign did not meet the expected standards.

Reactions to the Spanish Ministry of Youth and Children’s campaign. Source: @Bio_Lidia.

The tweet states: “You may be very supportive of women scientists, but you certainly don’t support women illustrators (and girls who want to make a living from it). You have used AI instead of hiring a female illustrator (or male illustrator) for a campaign that has national repercussions. Unbelievable.”

As a result, the Ministry found it necessary to withdraw the campaign and issue a public apology for the inappropriate use of AI technology in this context.

Rectification by the Spanish Ministry of Youth and Children. Source: @JuventudInfGob.

“We have removed the images published today for the #InternationalDayOfWomenAndGirlsInScience.

This debate deserves a deep reflection and the industry an apology.

Government supports creators and will listen to and incorporate their demands to regulate AI.”

Initially, from an ethical standpoint, it is questionable to manipulate images protected by copyright in order to alter or edit them, thereby seeking to avoid possible penalties.

It is important to consider that an image modified, perfected, or adjusted through artificial intelligence has the potential to distort reality, and the boundaries between what is real and what is not can become very blurry.

Navigating the legal void: copyright in the age of Artificial Intelligence

Currently, there is a legal void regarding the ownership of images generated by artificial intelligence. The ownership of these images varies depending on the AI software used and the specific terms and conditions it establishes.

According to the usage norms of DALL-E, by creating an image through specific commands or instructions to the AI, the user obtains the ownership rights, even allowing its use for commercial purposes.

On the other hand, MidJourney allows the commercial exploitation of its images; however, it specifies that companies with revenues over one million dollars must purchase a subscription to do so.

Therefore, these platforms offer some freedom in the use of the generated images, without imposing significant restrictions, implying that they can be used in advertising campaigns without clear regulation on the matter. It’s noteworthy that MidJourney includes a clause, in which it warns us, “if you improve images from others, those images will still belong to the original creators”.

Defining photography in the digital age

Contest organizers have the authority to limit the use of artificial intelligence tools in the works submitted; however, it is essential that these restrictions are clearly detailed in the contest rules.

World Press Photo, one of the most prestigious photography contests in the world, issued a statement in which it excludes photographs created by AI from all categories. According to the organization, “images created by AI are not considered photography,” although the use of this technology is allowed for making minor adjustments that do not modify the essence of the original image.

Setting these conditions explicitly ensures that all participants have a uniform understanding of what is allowed and what is not, thus promoting a level playing field.

This transparency not only helps to avoid misunderstandings or subsequent disputes but also ensures that the integrity and objectives of the contest remain aligned with the ethical and creative principles that underpin it.

The first AI-generated photograph to win a competition

In March 2023, Boris Eldagsen won the creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 with an AI-generated image, marking a historic moment as the first AI-generated image to win in a prestigious international photography competition.

Winning image in the creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023, generated with Artificial Intelligence. Source: Boris Eldagsen.

Eldagsen described his participation in the contest as an experiment to explore whether competitions are ready for AI-generated images, sparking a debate on whether AI images and photography should compete against each other in awards of this caliber. He stated that AI is not photography and, therefore, decided not to accept the prize, hoping to accelerate the debate on what should be considered photography and what should not. Eldagsen has been a photographer for 30 years before turning to AI.

This new era we are living in, with generative artificial intelligence, also opens the door to a myriad of ethical and legal challenges that require our attention.

As we continue to explore these digital frontiers, it is essential to educate ourselves and collaborate in building an ethical framework that balances innovation with respect for human creation.



Torresburriel Estudio

User Experience & User Research agency focused on services and digital products. Proud member of @UXalliance