A.I.: Don’t Burn Your Fingers On The Hottest New Trend

No matter how successful your existing Merch By Amazon business is, you know it takes a lot of work. Coming up with ideas, designing them, hating them and doing them over again, refining them until you know they’re gonna sell…

Wouldn’t it be great if there was something that could do all the work for you? If you believe the hucksters crying out from the postage-stamp-sized ads in the Facebook margins, A.I. will do it all for you!

Well, to quote the late Harry Dean Stanton,

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Photo from “Alien” ©Twentieth Century Fox. Watch it here.

I can say from experience that A.I. is not smart enough to create designs that will resonate with your customer base with a simple push of a button. Nor is it capable of developing completely original graphics without deriving them from other sources.

The designers who use the better-known A.I. tools spend countless hours on prompts that produce results that are even close to the largely avant-garde designs one would classify as “fine art”.


Even that last statement is tricky, as the current argument about A.I. “art” is that it isn’t really art because the A.I. software is trained by ingesting the work of other artists. Ostensibly, this was meant to produce a “blend” of the art style to produce something new and original, but many of the popular apps are not yet sophisticated enough to do that.

For those who haven’t yet experimented with A.I. design apps, the process is as simple as feeding a series of descriptive words or phrases – known as “prompts” – into a field. The A.I. then returns between 1-4 visual responses interpreting the prompt visually. So, if you type “elephant” and nothing else, you’ll get a simple result like the one below.

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Seems pretty simple, right? That’s good and bad. Bad, primarily because that elephant was most likely pulled wholecloth from another artist. By simply typing “elephant” without any other descriptors, it will make the quickest decision and pull a simple image of an elephant from the library of art it ingested.

I took the above image and ran it through Google Image search to see what would come up. Of the dozens of arguably different-looking images it returned, there were at least three from professional fine artists whose original hand-painted or even digitally-rendered works which were strikingly similar. Similar enough that, if one of those fine artists was bidding on a job to illustrate said elephant, they’d lose out to the buyer’s idiot relative who typed “elephant” into Dall-E.

“Look!” says the Idiot, “I just saved you a bundle of money! Aren’t I a genius?”

No. In fact, you may have potentially COST a lot more.


Imagine that our Idiot uploaded the elephant to his (her/their…stupidity does not discriminate) Merch By Amazon account and printed it on a t-shirt. Imagine it happens just as elephants are trending around the world for some reason, raising the visibility of elephant-related products.

Idiot’s shirts sell gangbusters, worn by celebrities, promoted by TikTok influencers and splashed all over social media as THE new t-shirt to wear. Idiot is so happy that they clicked on that “Use A.I. To Make Millions On Merch By Amazon Overnight” Facebook ad.

“Wow, that guy in the video sure seemed sketchy,” exclaims our incredulous Idiot, “but it turns out he was right!”

Artists Training A.I. Apps Without Their Consent

Then, Fine Artist Who Lost The Bid sees the shirt on the “Poor Artists Who Can’t Sell Their Work Anymore” Instagram page. Fine Artist not only sees a striking similarity between their art and the one on the shirt, but recognizes the manufacturer as the one who turned down their bid. Fine Artist contacts the legal firm currently representing the over 16,000 artists who were named on the leaked Midjourney training roster, who connects the dots and sues Idiot, Inc.

Whether or not our Idiot loses the case, whatever they made on the shirt will pale compared to the legal fees they have to spend in defense, as A.I. is still new enough not to have clear legal precedent. So, a lot of money will be spent in litigation.

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As ubiquitous as A.I. is right now, public sentiment favors the artists whose work has been used to train the various generative art A.I. programs. The class action suit brought by the aforementioned 16,000 artists (at least a dozen of whom I know personally) is gaining traction as the artists rightfully claim that they were in effect teaching their styles and methods to a computer program without their consent.

Copyright Infringement For Dummies

Not only are artists being harvested for their styles, but if they own or ever performed any work on copyrighted intellectual properties, that work can be drawn into the results as well.

Take for example the Merch By Amazon seller (we’ll call this one “Dummy”) who had an idea for a funny shirt with a lazy cartoon cat. Instead of using original art (costs too much) or stock art (costs something, period), they hop on over to an A.I. program and type in “Cat. Lazy. Droopy eyes. Orange tabby. Smiles like he’s kinda stoned.”

The A.I. generates an image, and Dummy loves it because – although he can’t place where he might have seen something like it before – it fits within his design idea. He pulls it into a design program and adds a cartoon balloon with a funny saying, maybe something about Mondays and lasagna, then uploads it to his MBA account and waits for the dollars to flow.

Instead, when he checks his account to see if he could retire yet, he finds that Amazon has closed his account! On a trademark infringement claim from global media conglomerate Viacom, no less, stating that Dummy illegally used the copyrighted image of none other than the world-famous Garfield!

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The bottom line is that the current generation of A.I is not a safe platform to produce graphics for your Merch By Amazon products. It’s still a Wild West, where it’s basically a black market of stolen content. As with any black market, the quality of what you get could hurt you.

We’re not by any means “anti-A.I.” In fact, we’ve been using the current generation of A.I., both textually and graphically for over a year now, but mostly for inspiration or for igniting a creative spark when fatigued or simply daunted by the eldritch horror that is The Blank Page. Absolutely not for finished product.

There is too much great potential for A.I. to assist in the creative process. However, it’s still early days, the “Napster” phase of the tech, if you will. Metallica may have brought the pioneering music-pirating website down, but the public already got a taste of what it was like to not be tied down to a CD player. Loud and clear, they wanted to listen to music when they wanted, how they wanted and where they wanted. And the music industry adapted, and that’s why we have Spotify today.

Any early discovery, like fire, will take some time before it is corralled and can be used as a proper tool. Just don’t be the Dummy caveman who gets his fingers burned.

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