Generative AI Policy

July 2023:

AI has exciting possibilities but when it comes to generative AI, we are protecting the integrity of our historic photographic archive so you can continue to trust working with us and our images, just as people have done for nearly 100 years.  This is for our customers, our supplier institutions and agencies, our internal researchers and the inspiring photographers we work with.

Our context: TopFoto’s collecting practice began with photographer John Topham in 1927.  To this day the heart of our archive is formed from his work plus the combined priceless photographic news collections from the golden age of Fleet Street.

Real events, real people, real stories. Backed up by copyright, credit, and our in-house search team.

National regulatory and legal systems globally are still working to address the explosion of generative AI.  The scope for fake “photographs”, whether positioned as historical or contemporary, is a serious and unresolved issue.

TopFoto has long provided photographs and illustrations for educational publishers, news agencies, documentary makers, magazines, historians, authors, and the museum and heritage sectors globally as well as to top brands such as Burberry, Dior and Tyrrells. We host research visits for curators from national and regional museums and for the National Trust (Chartwell), and in addition, the public enjoy exploring and learning from our online collections.  All these audiences need to be able to rely on us and our values, with confidence in our expert in-house researchers and in our content.

Hence our policy on generative AI: TopFoto does not create, accept, promote visual content created using generative AI (images that are code-created as if they were photographs taken in real time of real events). We have protections in place to prevent ai generated images entering our archive.

What are we doing? – A lot, but the headlines are below:

1. Checking with all our suppliers to confirm they are not supplying us with generative AI content.

2. Monitoring technical and legal developments on a rolling basis for adaptation as necessary.

3. We have policy and operational standards in place to protect the integrity of our archive and keep it free from generative AI images.

4. Our policy is on our website for transparency and ease of reference.

Building our collections

We continue to prioritise quality growth, building up our image collections with original and authentic content.  This is primarily by working in-person with established photographers and their archives (many exclusive to us) as well as continuing to digitise our own historical images from our 4000 square foot archive (which consists of vintage glass plate and acetate negatives, prints, and colour transparencies).

• We have physical negatives and prints dating from 1900 and which our team access every day for our customers’ requests.  Everything is digitised by us in our Studio 1.

• Having our own in-house digitisation studio means: where we control the digital transformation “from analogue to upload”, we can vouch for the authenticity regardless of the date of the upload.

• We have just built Studio 2 to support stellar photographer analogue collections (including Colin Jones, Roger Bamber, Brian Harris, Robert Golden, Hy Money, Ken Russell, Graham Keen, Grace Robertson).

Do we use any AI? Yes, we see value in AI-assisted search for example.  In addition, we sometimes use programs to help clarify an image - for example, if an early digital image needs to be enlarged. This is only performed on an image-by-image basis and from July 2023 onwards, we will always record in the special instructions if we have used technology to improve the viability of an image. We will never alter the narrative of an image by adding/subtracting people or objects, but we often remove dust and scratches and other imperfections using a skilled digital technician.  In the same manner, we sometimes colourise an image, creating a new version with the original always available. We always note if we have colourised an image.

We welcome and indeed invite discussion on generative AI, and our archive.



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