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CivitAI Clubs - Paywalls / Pay Gates and the Dangers They Propose

CivitAI Clubs - Paywalls / Pay Gates and the Dangers They Propose

Update January 10th, 2024 (00:50) : CivitAI has disabled the Clubs feature and states any Buzz spent on Clubs will be refunded in full, if you need a further refund for Buzz you bought and spent specifically on Clubs, I would recommend contacting CivitAI support.

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Since CivitAI has begun correcting Clubs I will continue to posts AI Related articles I can here, but with caution.

CivitAI’s Clubs Feature
- Paywalls / Pay Gates and the Dangers They Propose -

- an exploration of paywalls and how CivitAI’s proposed paywall system will, and already has, caused irreversible damage to the AI community. -

NOTICE :

This article started being written on January 5th, 2024 and is being finished for initial release on January 6th, 2024. At this time CivitAI has recognized some of the community’s concerns and issued a call for feedback ( January 5th, 2024 - https://civitai.com/articles/3636 ). If anything has changed between then and when you’re reading this article, such changes may not be accounted for.

Editor note : Given the gravity of the situation, we chose haste. This article may not get the same editing attention we would usually put into an article. This means there may be some strange grammar, spelling mistakes, or other small errors. Please bare with us! (Corrections will be issued over time if necessary)

There is always a paradox lying at our feet. In one hand, we do what we love not for profit or fame, but because we hold a burning passion to create. In the other hand is the dystopian hellscape of starvation.”

This world of AI is a strange one, we tell a series of numbers to create intricate designs, characters, landscapes, anything, and we can see those results build before our eyes in mere seconds. It’s a phenomenon none of us could have predicted even just a couple years ago, but here we are with an incredible technology that is already altering the world. This new technology has allowed people to become what one could call an artist without them ever touching a pen and paper with creativity flowing through thousands and thousands of minds in how to display and present those ideas that have been housed in their minds, previously with no way to escape. AI Generation has opened up new avenues for people to express themselves and share their ideas in ways never thought possible, breaking down barriers that otherwise acted as a solid concrete wall; hand coordination, mind visualizations, color theory, spatial understanding, time, cost, and many more have been reduced so that now anyone willing can leap over that concrete wall. This is the power of AI, and something that could destroy the world as we know it.

CivitAI Introduces “Clubs”
- The Paywall System -

On January 4th, 2024, CivitAI, one of the largest AI Model and content sharing sites on the web, introduced a new feature misleading named “Clubs.” If you only hear the title it may sound like a grouping system similar to guilds or clans, but really it’s a thinly veiled paywall system attempting to mimic the likes of Patreon and Ko-Fi (as per their own admission in the announcement). Now there’s a lot wrong with this announcement, from contradictory statements and lies to a very clear “damage control” first approach, but we will save this dissection for later because there’s a much larger issue here than their wording. This system was designed to allow and encourage creators to start paywalling AI models, metadata, images, articles, and any other such content that could be posted to the site, directly on the site itself. While those outside the creative sphere, or maybe those that don’t really know much about AI, this may not seem like much of an issue, besides, why shouldn’t creators be paid for their work? And I agree with the last portion of that question, creators should have ways to be compensated, and similarly CivitAI should be able to cover their costs and profit from making a value-able service. However this method and approach has much larger implications and is not only harmful, but potentially dangerous. As mentioned, CivitAI is one of the largest sites in the AI sphere at the moment, what they do will have over-arching effects on the entire AI community, and potentially on the entire industry.

(The CivitAI Clubs announcement. The version screencapped here had already been edited, I don’t have the original post.)

Quick Descriptions
- What is a “Paywall” and Paywalled Content -

I feel it’s important to clarify the term “paywall” in not only its literal term, but also both its nuanced and social description.

“a system that prevents internet users from accessing certain Web content without a paid subscription.”
(merriam-webster - https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paywall)

“A
paywall is a method of restricting access to content, with a purchase or a paid subscription…”
(
en.wikipedia.org - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paywall)

The Paywall Method was primarily started by the news article industry, where they wanted to get more payment from readers rather than from sponsors or products like newspaper sales. This system was designed into 4 distinct systems, first was a direct purchase required for any access, often called a “Hard Paywall” where nothing was allowed to be viewed until the purchase was confirmed. An altered version of this is now the most common for article sites called the “Soft Paywall” where some of an article is visible, usually the “hook” and intro section to draw people in but users must pay to see the rest of the content, or they release some content for free while restricting access to other content with article sites often allowing a limited number of article views before requiring payment. Then we of course see the combination of these 2 systems where some content may have a soft paywall, being free or limited, with other content having a hard paywall and requiring payment before viewing.

Now that’s what’s listed on Wikipedia, (thank you for following my source link!) but there is a newer style of paywall that has appeared over the last few years which is similar to a combination system, but is a bit more nuanced than a basic description. This new paywall, which we’ll just call “Leaded Paywall” [as in: to lead or guide] has the general system of a Soft Paywall, where content is released for free to encourage people to purchase further access, but instead of being equally valued content like in a soft paywall, the free content is intentionally inferior or limited compared to the paid content. For example, let’s say a video game lets you play for free, however you can only run certain levels with higher rewards if you pay a subscription. This type of system is seen in the creator space when an artist releases a few images for free and says “you can access the revised and alternates through a subscription!” where it is implied the content behind the paywall is of higher quality and contains better versions than what is given for free. (Those cultured among you may have experienced this when an R18+ creator releases an image but censors “the good bits” for the free version and “leads you on” to try and get you paying their paywall price.) Related directly to AI, and an example taken directly from CivitAI’s announcement, “Within Clubs, Creators might choose to provide two versions of a resource – a “lite” and “premium” version. The premium version, exclusive to club members, might include additional enhancements (enhanced outfits, different characters, ect.).” essentially meaning the lite version is the lead, and the premium version would be the paywall.

The proposed version by CivitAI will most likely end up as the latter “Leaded Paywall” form given how it’s designed, and we will cover this later; but I also want to be fair to creators and say CivitAI was not mandating this kind of behavior, instead they are only recommending it, but this would still be the natural result of the system they put in place. I would like to believe most creators have good intentions in mind and those included in their invite only period were either misled or simply don’t understand the gravity of the system’s flaws, misguided by bias, or blind faith.

“If Only I was Paid More”
- The Paywall Paradox -

There’s a lot of issues with paywalling AI content so I’ll be breaking this point into several sections, as it is the most prominent issue at hand. But first, let’s talk about The Paywall Paradox. There’s an interesting theory that if people are directly paid for their work, then they are incentivized to work hard and produce higher quality results. It seems like an obvious statement, but it’s also one that’s not really true. If a person is paid simply for producing an outcome, that is what you are encouraging, an outcome, and nothing else. A person is only incentivized to produce what is paid for and nothing more, and if the person feels they don’t get paid enough they won’t work as hard and demand more money. It’s a very prevalent issue a lot of corporate entities struggle with, and have struggled with for decades. The solution? To incentivize a better outcome than expected and reward such an outcome. This alteration means a person is encouraged to do better to earn more money and produce a better outcome. This directly translates to how many entities have reward programs, ‘hours determined by performance,’ and other performance incentives.

All well and good when it applies directly to a corporate environment, but, of course, it has issues if you try to directly translate it to open creative environments such as the likes of independent creators and ‘donation’ style systems like Patreon, Ko-Fi, SubscribeStar, ect. When at a job or in a corporate environment there is a hard-set task for you to complete and guidelines you are expected to follow, if you don’t do the job, you will, generally, lose said job. Instead, in this open independent environment, when we are paywalling content we are not ‘working for a price’ but instead we are selling a product, and we only have to convince people that the product is worth purchasing, and often without ever even needing to show the product in the first place. This is where barriers break down quickly and The Paywall Paradox comes into play.

If a creator is given donations over a set period of time without paywalls, or at least gives reasonable access to said content for free through either short early access periods with strict free release deadlines or regular transitions from paid to free in a fashion that is guaranteed, then they are paid to spend their time on the products or services everyone is receiving. You can think of the donation-powered work life similar to a performance dictated wage, if the content we produce is well received and continues at a pace the community sees reasonable then they are more likely to continue paying us, and if we exceed expectations then we may even start making more. This is not only beneficial to the community of that creator since those that can afford to donate are able to fund the products and services for those that may not otherwise be able to pay, but it also helps the creator to ensure they are not bound by arbitrary releases or deadlines to continue receiving support, allowing them to focus on creating better, more focused content. This also means the creator can grow a larger community, create support around their passion, and foster a positive environment of collaboration and good faith.

However a paywall system introduces a very different set of incentives and goals. ‘Supporters’ in a donation power system become ‘customers’ who are only there to purchase a product, not to support a creator they love and care for. This means the incentive goes from creating that good faith community and into creating the perception that the product behind the veil is worth paying the price of admission, and to try and encourage those that are behind the paywall not to leave the paywalled ecosystem. While this could potentially make more money and seems like a good idea on paper, it can quickly break down as once the incentive to purchase the product being sold has already been obtained or the perception has faltered, why would you continue supporting? Since the incentive shifts away from the creator, the focus of the community can too, and it creates an environment where a creator has to spend increasing amounts of time keeping customers happy instead of supporters of them and their work, which can, and often does, lead to diminished quality of work and burn out.

“The Cheese is Paywalled!”
- Commissions Live Differently -

There is something to be said about the term paywall, as it is primarily seen as a negative and I’d like to quickly explore this. When you go to the store to purchase your favorite kind of cheese, you are not saying “the cheese has a paywall!” Instead you see a purchase price and have a known quantity of said product. You are under no illusion of what you are purchasing, there is a set contract in place and you are making a direct exchange. But if a creator hasn’t made a product yet, how can someone purchase something from them, or how can I purchase from a donation run creator? In the creator space, we call these transactions “commissions” and are a regular part of operation for creators that work on the donations system, such as myself. This is where an individual or group contacts a creator to make something specific with a contract in place (sometimes a social contract, sometimes a legal one). There is a set price and usually a release window, though depending on the creator and their community this deadline can be flexible as long as it follows good faith. These transactions are very similar to freelance or contractor work but without all the legal jargon or formalities.

Why clarify this distinction? I personally don’t always feel like requesting payment for services is a bad thing, and there are plenty of situations where paying a creator for their time is not only beneficial to those paying, but may actually be required. Commissioned content can be owned in different ways, but the terms are determined directly by those paying for the service such as if the content can be shared publicly, what the content contains, and what is except-able in the content. In essence, the exchange is direct similar to buying that block of cheese and doesn’t have the same pitfalls as a paywall. In contrast to both examples I presented, paywalls are content already produced, or planned to be produced, but intentionally withheld and obfuscated to prevent previews or understanding. The idea of a paywall is to create perception, as described in the last section, and doesn’t have many equating parts to a commission or subscription service. This is one of the reasons paywalls are viewed so negatively in the creatives industry, and rightly so! You can easily get all the benefits of paywalled content without the negatives by engaging in more ethical practices and partaking in good faith social contracts. And, as we’ll explore next, that obfuscation paywalled systems introduce creates a large host of other issues. I’ll also explain why selling AI models found on CivitAI as a product has issues, these 2 prior sections were primarily focused on paywalls in the creatives industry as a whole, so now let’s talk AI!

“...receive additional content, not as a paywall..”
- Uncovering CivitAI’s Lie -

Ok, been dreading this part, but for the rest of the article to make sense we need to dissect CivitAI’s honestly terrible announcement of paywalled content and their initially terrible response. But first, some pretext to the announcement that many may not be aware of. CivitAI as an entity has always had the goal to monetize the site, they are a for profit company, and I would like readers to remember this. While I personally have had great interactions with CivitAI staff and do believe those I’ve directly spoken with have good intentions, I do not want these personal emotions to prevent us from criticizing CivitAI or even individuals when they present poor behavior. Remember that this is criticism aimed at helping CivitAI and their staff improve in the future, and will be presented in a way not to soften the blow for emotions or feelings so we can instead focus purely on facts and reality.

Now, let’s get into it.

The article starts explaining what Clubs are ‘intended’ to be, a Patreon or Ko-Fi style integration but directly with CivitAI and powered by Buzz, CivitAI’s premium currency you are encouraged to purchase. This alone isn’t initially a problem as CivitAI staff have stated, both in the past and after the backlash, that Buzz will allow for a cash-out in some form in the future. The major issue here, however, is that Patreon and Ko-Fi are clear in exactly how you are supporting creators and it is 100% transparent how much of your funds are actually reaching the creator. However the initial article release does not mention this at all nor do future statements give a clear picture. I’d argue further statements have unfortunately only made the system even more vague. In an edit they made to the feedback response article...

They state Buzz has no fixed value, and that engagement will have an affect on how much a creator earns. This means if I donate $10 worth of buzz to a creator, even while currently they get nothing, after they implement this cash out I have no idea how much is actually being rewarded to that creator. The initial assumption made when this feature was first announced was that Buzz would directly correlate to the purchase price, as it probably should, so it would be clear and precise on what you are giving creators. Instead, you are just kinda throwing them some pixie dust and hoping magic happens. Staff have stated that Buzz is used since you can earn Buzz by interacting with the site (a statement we’ll dive into later), however, if you are advertising Buzz as your donation currency then you are encouraging people to purchase Buzz giving it real world value. This is only made more serious when you are recommending creators paywall content (as we’ll cover in a moment) since they are purchasing your currency to make an exchange for a product.

Contrast this to, say, Ko-fi. Ko-fi does not take a cut by default, though creators can choose to donate a portion to Ko-fi for extra features that costs Ko-fi money to run. This means all Ko-fi donations to a creator are only subject to whatever payment processor is chosen, with Stripe and PayPal being the most prominent. For both Ko-fi and Patreon all costs and fees, as well as how and when creators are paid, are all listed or linked for anyone to view in various places, including when you sign up, set up to make donations, or when checking the TOS/Policy pages and maybe even more places. CivitAI is not only vague on when creators are paid, but also by how much, and, at the time of this writing, don’t explain these systems anywhere besides these announcements. Any other donation platform similar to Patreon or Ko-fi is fully transparent on how creators are paid, SubscribeStar, Buy Me a Coffee, Gumroad, and so on, even platforms like YouTube and Twitch are transparent with their cut and how much creators are paid for direct subscriptions and donations (though ad revenue is vague given their heavily varied nature, though average CPM is usually still given).

Being 100% clear and transparent is the industry standard, and CivitAI needs to also make this true of their donations system if they expect people to take it seriously. I could hypothesize that this is somewhat intentional since they relied on creators creating paywall content instead of actually encouraging direct donations, but I have some follow-up statements to that a bit later. Instead, I think this is just a sign that CivitAI doesn’t really understand donation platforms, how they work, or what both creators and users need in order for a platform to be viable and well received. As a note, CivitAI does actually have direct Buzz donations, you can give Buzz to creators you like and even on specific resources! This feature already exists and doesn’t need clubs to take advantage of or use, the only unique aspect to clubs is the ability to paywall content.

I propose if CivitAI wants to actually set up real donations, they need to ditch Buzz for this specific purpose and use real dollars with very clear outlines on exactly how that money is received and given to creators, and try to be transparent with processing fees. Buzz could still be a way to donate, but leave it out of direct donations. Otherwise, a person donating to a creator on CivitAi instead of on another dedicated platform like Ko-fi are actively creating uncertainty for a creator and could most likely be rewarding them with a different amount than expected. That uncertainty is also carried over to creators for the same reasons.

If you’re a user and would like to donate to a creator, donate on their dedicated donation platform to ensure your financial support reaches them in the amounts expected. (The metrics of your donations on those platforms also helps creators a lot, but I won’t go in-depth on that here.)

“It’s important to note that Clubs are intended as a way to support your favorite Creators and receive additional content for doing so, not as a paywall for otherwise free content!”

This is how the article starts, and to anyone familiar with corporate speak, we call this “preemptive damage control” where they try to create a leading statement that misleads or contradicts actual intention. Later in the article under “Club Best Practices” CivitAI presents what they expect from creators that are in the club program and what they consider acceptable.

“Within Clubs, Creators might choose to provide two versions of a resource – a “lite” and “premium” version. The premium version, exclusive to club members, might include additional enhancements (enhanced outfits, different characters, ect.).”

“Clubs might offer exclusive image metadata, or insights into the creative process.”

This, is a paywall feature, full stop, and any statement saying otherwise is a blatant lie. Keep in mind, my screenshot is from after they had already made edits to the article, so this wording is deliberate and not a mistake, they were careful to use language like “intended” and “discouraged” to try and mislead people on the features capabilities. The intent doesn’t determine how the system works, the system does. CivitAI needs to be honest in what their system does and what it’s capable of without the corporate speak and damage control style writing. If you know it’s a bad feature, just own up to it, if it’s so obvious that a feature is going to anger the community, why not stop to think about it or even just ask for feedback from the community before you cause damage?

I also find the statement about it not being “a paywall for otherwise free content!” as dishonest at best. Within their proposed content they mention metadata, which, if any of you have generated images before, and I’m sure that is a very good portion of you, metadata is automatically added to images for free, and it takes effort to remove. Given this is recommended behavior, CivitAI is encouraging creators to actively put in effort to make their resources worse to place the original free resource behind a paywall. This is also a general sentiment with their suggestions, where CivitAI is encouraging creators to put effort into making their free resources worse to encourage people to buy into their leaded paywall. In a usual scenario without a paywall if I was to create a lora for a character I’d want to make it the best I can, include multiple outfits and ensure they work the best they can for what I have, but CivitAI would be encouraging me directly to create a “lite” version without those outfits or worse performance, when that original resource would have been free otherwise. I, personally, would find this incredibly insulting as a creator, but I don’t blame people for being drawn in by this, who doesn’t like money right? But this system isn’t for everyone.

It’s only for the top creators. Well, really, it’s just for creators the staff decided to send an invite. But there is an issue here extending beyond the article, and that is their approach to making this system in the first place. They kept Clubs limited to those they invited, creating a bias in not only their dataset of participants but also bias in those they invited. CivitAI intentionally invited only creators they knew would be predisposed to want this kind of system, creating a bias toward a specific outcome. On the flip side, these specific individuals were contacted directly to test a feature with the prospect of payment, speaking out against such a system would act against their own best interest, furthering this bias. Whether this was intentional or not I can’t say, but CivitAI has had sign ups to test other features in the past but they specifically chose to not use that system here, or with any of these features seen as controversial from the community. If I recall correctly this was also the case with a previously controversial feature called Buzz, and mod selected “featured” images are also a huge complaint regarding competitions where mods are able to boost a particular image of either their own work or creators they like by putting them on the front page.

All of this leads to a bit of an issue, where it’s rules for the few, then rules for the rest. It creates a massive imbalance not just in how the community is treated but also in what feedback CivitAI actually receives when implementing these features or making changes to the site. By shutting out the common user and only focusing on the few they have created a feature that is heavily disliked by a large portion of their user base and is actively scaring away creators from not only participating on the site, but from participating in AI in general. If creators feel like the platform they are on would rather they fail while selectively choosing a few for stardom then it discourages people from even trying. This was already an issue when featured creators often boost up the leaderboards and get regular promotion through social posts and direct mod interactions encouraging users to check out a specific user’s resource, but now there’s a money incentive to be a CivitAI team favorite. If you’re one of those favorites getting special treatment, promoted on the front page, pushed up the leaderboard, and being invited to test features with prospects of being paid money, does speaking out about potential issues sound all that enticing?

Let’s talk about the “Feedback Response” added after they edited the article to make revisions. We’ll skip “The Value of Buzz” section as we already covered that above with a later statement they made.

I’ll divide this up by paragraphs, for the first paragraph, as a creator, I don’t personally feel it should be expected of CivitAI to compensate creators. It’s not CivitAI’s job to pay our bills and if creators want to be paid for their work there are several ways to encourage users to help support you. Sure, it takes effort, but people not supporting you isn’t on CivitAI, it’s on you. Given that, I also understand that CivitAI staff would also like to compensate creators, so why not work together? Seems honorable enough but I do sense a conflict of interest for CivitAI, because they could just implement systems for direct donations, or ways to help creators promote stuff like their Ko-fi, but CivitAI doesn’t see profit in that. As a creator it is annoying that my only way to promote my other work is a tiny link in the description, or a tiny note on my profile page no one ever visits (you totally should though because my banner is cute and I have cool resources!). But CivitAI wants to profit from the system, so they need to have it through them. And CivitAI did have a system for it, called “Tips” where people can give each other Buzz which, as we went over, was supposed to eventually lead to a payout. But CivitAI never pushed this tips feature and every person who isn’t active in their Discord that I’ve spoken to didn’t even know the feature existed. CivitAI already had these systems, there was no reason to try and make another, more aggressive system, instead build upon and improve the existing systems before taking such drastic measures.

Second Paragraph. I strongly disagree that moving away from the spirit of open source and directly encouraging a hostile and competitive environment, among other issues, would ever encourage anyone that had positive intentions to return, and I personally know many who are leaving CivitAI with no intention of ever returning. I am one of those creators that has had work stolen, I’ve been a creator for over 20 years, it happens, and it sucks, but becoming that source of profit against a creator’s wishes isn’t the right approach. Instead, CivitAI needs to look into how they manage distribution, their API allows sites to scrape models, images, descriptions, details, and even user data so that other sites are able to effortlessly impersonate creators and use their content for profit.

SeaArt was one such site that was scraping models and reposting content without creator’s consent. They used CivitAI’s API with the API key given to them when they were accepted into the CivitAI Diffuser Program; which means CivitAI was promoting a site that was participating in such behavior. I won’t cover this whole mess and I also want to specify that SeaArt has claimed they have deleted the bots and stopped this behavior after I and other creators gave them hell about it for months (first support message I sent on their site should have been early October 2023, supposedly resolved near the end of December 2024). I notified CivitAI staff of this issues, and it took months for them to take action, but they never revised the system or how it works, just made vague suggestions or said they couldn’t do anything about it until I directly spoke with MaxField on Discord over the issue and they were eventually able to get them to stop. (Supposedly stop anyways, I can’t confirm if they stopped or not).

It’s features like this, and the blatant disregard for creators that creates these pitfalls. People will steal content for profit, that’s just a reality of being a creator, but it’s also not CivitAIs job to go out hunting that content down, it’s the creators. But what is CivitAI’s responsibility is how they handle whatever is in their control, and I strongly believe their actions here have been rather limited. Instead of trying to become a place where piracy of content is encouraged through “Clubs” where people could steal content to put behind paywalls, create a positive environment for creators and users alike and promote ethical behavior. For instance, the art community is already strongly against plagiarism and if people are found plagiarizing content their career is effective over in terms of professional work, why not actively speak out against model/resource theft, promote better sourcing, and encourage cooperation instead of competition?

Third Paragraph. Any creator asking to create a paywall is not supporting the spirit of open source, and neither is CivitAI for providing such a system. CivitAI does not operate in the “spirit of open source,” they are a for profit company making moves to create said profit. There is a HUGE difference between individuals going against the spirit of open source, creating paywalled content on other platforms, and the platform itself, CivitAI, creating such paywalls themselves.

CivitAI does not promote open source with features like this.

Fourth Paragraph. I don’t think CivitAI realizes that users and creators are the same people here, we are all users of CivitAI, if you discourage creators from posting to the site, you lose users, if the users leave the site then creators no longer post. It’s always a balance, and that should have been so obvious it shouldn’t require feedback to understand. If you only listen to one side on any issue, of course things are going to be skewed and lead you astray. But that is what CivitAI did anyways, they only listened to a subset of creators, not all creators, only a curated few who were predisposed to accept what you offered. As a creator I am a bit offended by this paragraph as it softly implies this was on creators instead of CivitAI for us wanting a way to be “compensated” even though that group is a very small portion of the community, and the only portion of the community CivitAI ever bothered listening to.

Final Paragraph. Nothing is set in stone, but the feature went live and (at the time of writing) it is still live. You are still promoting this feature, you are still supporting paywalled content, you are still actively discouraging open source, you are still actively damaging the community.

“Fuck You, Got Mine.”
- The Death of Collaboration -

When I was a budding creator all those years ago, in the lowest moments of my childhood, the art community was a light in the darkness. Although many didn’t understand my passion to create, when I was around other creators working on art and programming it was completely different. We all worked together to create awesome stuff, we would help critique each other's work, we would share our methods and knowledge, and we would never stop encouraging people to do better and improve others. No matter how much we may have had envy for that person who could do incredible cursive letters, or the one who could play 17 instruments and seemed like a music savant, we never got hostile, we never built resentment, and we never discouraged others from making incredible works. It was all about collaboration, maybe not collaborating on the same project or even in the same genre, but regardless we would still collaborate by creating a positive environment with the goal of pushing each other forward to greater heights.

Then money got involved, and competition set in. My code was stolen, art was taken and re-printed, posters stolen, works sabotaged, attempted slander on my name. There’s a common phenomenon where once there is an incentive to compete for profit the participants will push against collaboration and instead push to prop themselves up at any cost. Even when not everyone wants to compete it becomes a necessity to do so, if everyone is constantly pushing you down then the only way to stand is to push back. If you share your resource in good faith, then those that don’t share theirs will benefit from your work without giving back. Your good faith will be taken advantage of, your work will reward those that use it more than it will reward you, and others will flock to those that used you instead of supporting you, the one that created the resource. This is the environment CivitAI “Clubs” will create, similar to how creators that thrive on paywalled content on Patreon, sharing their methods and ‘secrets’ is forbidden but they will gladly use other people’s freely available resources; mod creators find their code behind another individual’s paywall; emulation devs find their entire codebase was copied one-to-one and sold as part of a kickstarter project; all without ever receiving credit or payment for their work.

The “Fuck You, Got Mine” mentality is strong with people that only seek profit, or even with those blinded by the very prospect of it. They don’t care who they hurt along the way, many even revel in it, as long as they get their profit and reputation. CivitAI, by promoting paywalls and hidden content, would be pushing these individuals to the top and encouraging their behavior. Remember how I mentioned that paywalls don’t actually encourage harder work, just an outcome? It’s been a while, I know, but what is the least amount of work you can do? Steal someone else’s work in a way that is difficult to detect and release another paywall resource to push more people to pay. Theft is already quite common in the AI community where bad actors will slightly change the hash of a model to re-upload and claim it’s their own, or even sometimes re-upload without changing the hash and deny the theft after evidence is presented. These things don’t just happen with small ‘nobodies’ either, top creators have been found in all kinds of industries stealing work, either outright copying their output or plagiarizing their work. I mentioned earlier that SeaArt was impersonating me while re-uploading my content, but they are not the only ones, and not all of them were companies. Individuals had taken my models and re-uploaded them all over, many of which slapped their own name and description on them or provided no source credit, some even claiming they ‘trained’ the model themselves. Funnily enough, one of my models on PixAI is still marked as “Trained” because the thief tried to claim they trained it and when I was finally able to get PixAI staff to transfer the model they never changed it.

If this kind of behavior is already common without CivitAI’s encouragement, imagine how much worse it would be if CivitAI was directly rewarding those who did this. Also imagine how many more paywalls will exist and how many more people will be encouraged to re-upload every model they have ever downloaded to ensure it never falls behind a paywall? Since paywalled content will become the norm, this would encourage more people to go against creator wishes and distribute content in ways that may not credit them at all. This wouldn’t only affect those that paywall content, but instead creates an environment where that is standard practice even for creators with the best intentions that release all their models and resources for free as much as possible, because how long until they also decide to paywall everything? I understand that CivitAI stated they don’t want to encourage this behavior, but they would create a system that would allow and encourage this behavior with financial benefits, scaring people not just away from the platform but scaring them from ever sharing their work anywhere. If someone posts their work on HuggingFace, what’s to stop a creator from downloading my work and re-uploading it for their Club on CivitAI?

What CivitAI should be doing instead, is promoting a positive environment where not only creating unique resources is encouraged, but also promoting other, smaller creators. Instead of creating a competitive environment where creators are fighting over resources and keeping secrets, promote people to support each other, not just financially but also through sharing resources, guides, knowledge, and prop everyone up together. We should collaborate, not compete. This is how AI has gotten this far, companies like StabilityAI spent millions to create base models for us to work on, many worked on training methods, workflows, front-ends, back-ends, thousands upon thousands of research hours to help boost us all forward. The AI community took that good faith and pushed us farther with amazing resources, incredible sources like tech like ControlNet would have never existed without this collaborative environment, and neither would the incredible webUIs we all rely on like Automatic1111, ComfyUI, and InvokeUI. Even you, not just you specifically reader, but all of us would not be where we are without collaboration. But with this push for competitive monetization and moves to discourage sharing content all of that is in jeopardy. There’s something to be said when we all build our work off each other, but then one individual decides their contribution is somehow greater than all those it’s built off.

A small reminder that all these resources we release are built upon thousands, if not millions, of people’s hard work. We don’t own all this work, we are not the sole contributor. I do believe creators should be compensated for their time and effort, creating this stuff isn’t always easy, but we shouldn’t forget where we came from, and we should at least try and be ethical about all this.

“Nothing is ever simple…”
- My Suggestions -

I'm re-writing this section after the rest was already written because ideas and evolution is never ending. I also wanted to ensure my thoughts were fully written out before I attempted to provide some potential solutions, that way I’m able to properly compose my thoughts on whether something is positive or negative.

So let’s start with what’s negative about CivitAI’s “Clubs” first, since I think identifying the issues with the system helps guide us to a better solution as we can focus on removing or changing those elements in our proposed solution. The main issue is just the entire paywall concept itself, as outlined in this piece it promotes negative behavior, hostility, limits collaboration, and ultimately is far too prone to abuse. CivitAI staff have mentioned they don’t really want people paywalling content, so I think whatever system comes next needs to completely remove any hard or leading paywalls. I think some forms of holding can work, I’ll discuss early access, a method I personally use to promote my community and may engage in for my other projects like game dev and mods, but all resources need to be free for users without any unreasonable limits.

Another issue is that clubs create closed communities where people are encouraged to stay in a bubble and creators are encouraged to stay to themselves with their own clubs. I didn’t talk much about it but Clubs are not groups but rather one person makes a club to monetize anyone that joins. These closed off environments make clubs claustrophobic, and not because they may be small but rather because they suffocate communication between users of creator’s contents. Before clubs if someone was mentioning something to a creator it was public and everyone could join in the communication, or gain from the conversation, but now it’s just going to be those that are paying customers. It also creates an environment where another creator could try to sabotage another creator by lying to their private paying community that is predisposed to believe them. Any new system should probably be more open for communities to discuss and mix, or even promote it.

There’s many more issues, but keeping it big, “Clubs” being strictly focused on a single person creates the incentive to keep to themselves all their resources, knowledge, and to bring other creators down to pull up their own clubs like sabotaging other resources/clubs with bad reviews or slander. This may be controversial for some, but I believe any system that comes after this disaster should encourage groups instead of solo creators. Most platforms tend to focus on individuals when talking about this stuff, but I think it’s important to remember that places like Patreon, Ko-fi, SubscribeStar actually promote users to collaborate and build team-based support channels like a donations page for a team of developers for example. Sure, it’s not as common in our ever divided world, but it’s also not nearly as uncommon as you think. CivitAI has the opportunity to do something truly unique and create a system that rewards not just an individual, but could help encourage people to collaborate and bring each other to the top. As a general theme, I think things should focus on the community as a whole, and not on the individual. If people want the individual there are already places for this, but here something special could happen.

So there’s some major issues I would like you, the reader, to focus on while we go into my suggestions for improvement in the future.

So, step one :

Get rid of clubs entirely and refund any Buzz back to users that spent on them. Instead, direct these users to donate that amount directly to the creators when the refund happens and let them choose if they actually wanted to support the creator or if they were scammed into buying the paywall pass through FOMO or fear. The only unique feature “Clubs” introduced is the ability to hide content behind a paywall, everything else either does or could exist on the rest of the site. From here, focus on improving what is actually there and, if they’re not effective, figure out how to improve them.

Improve and Promote the Tips System :

Since Buzz is supposed to eventually allow pay-outs, you already have a donations system built into the site, Tips! As I believe I stated in another part of this article, no one outside the regulars I spoke to in the CivitAI discord even knew tips existed, if CivitAI wants to support creators this shouldn’t be the case! I suggest more obvious tip buttons for people to find and make it a regular feature on profile pages. Other sites that host creator content also frequently have small pop-ups occasionally that remind people they can tip creators, nexus mods specifically shows a small donation window reminding users they can donate and even has a quick donations input there, the window can also be quickly closed or ignored by the user if they wish so it’s never annoying to users or becomes dissuasive. Another original idea from me, you know how creators can have a banner on profile pages they customize with their own images? Why not allow creators to create their own “Support me!” banner which promotes users to send tips? Pretty sure even people that don’t care for tips would really love to create their own banner and get creative with it, and it would also be fun for users to see others' creations, and even tip those with awesome ones! This is supposed to be a creative and supportive website no? Let’s get creative!

Create Actual Clubs, but probably call them something different, like Guilds or Groups :

I was not the only one disappointed to find out clubs were not a new exciting way for people to gather around similar interests, but instead an individual focused paywall system. But I did say we should try and have something that promotes collaboration, right? So why not create something like Groups, Clans, Guilds, Collectives, cults? Instead of being a single person, it could be started by a group of individuals that act as the “leaders” of the cult-ah I mean group, and then they can work together to create resources of some sort of theme, topic, genre, whatever! I certainly wouldn’t shy away from creating a “best of anime boobage” guild for all my fellow degenerates! This could act as an open community anyone could join without paywalls to share similar interests and content, maybe allow posts directly to groups similar to how you can post directly to models, and have them cross-post. This means people would not only be able to share content with like minded individuals, but they could collaborate together seeing what others create and be incentivized to share their own work! This system could even have a tips system integrated in some way, where maybe the collective could be tipped similar to a creator and then that Buzz is distributed to the community based on activity or engagement. This would further incentivize people into doing better in their group, but also donate into the pool to get the community riled up and creating awesome stuffs! This would also help the dire post issues a lot of creators are experiencing where only the highly popular resources see people posting images and smaller creators are left without much, Clans could help promote awesome resources related to their theme, new and old. I think this would also help with the search issue on the site since if you wanted an awesome anime boobie model, you’d just find my awesome cult-ah, I mean, Group for it! (Being serious though, having these groups to help sort resources guided by communities would be great! Maybe even incentivize groups to promote new or undervalued resources)

Destroy the Featured Page :

Ok, yeah, that was random, but hear me out. I mentioned earlier about the bias CivitAI has been struggling with, and I think the featured page kind of acts to dissuade users from really ‘trying’ on the site. I think it would be much better if the first page people see when they visit while not logged in is trending resources, show what’s currently gaining traction and maybe promote a mix of old and new. Then, when a user is logged in, show them a feed of who they follow on the site and show what they’ve been posting, or even implement the Cults I suggested here! Yeah, that’s right, “Clubs” ability to follow a creator? Already exists on the site! I know, I was surprised too (not really). But yes, really what I’m saying here is give people a reason to follow creators they like, and show them what’s up! Currently the follow system is effectively useless, notifications is all you get and they drown out rather quickly, it also doesn’t show all activity there either. Save notifications for site related stuff, let people follow each other and have a central space to see what they’re posting. This will also encourage people to interact with creators they like more since they don’t have to manually travel to their page to see what they’re doing or releasing, instead they’ll see it on their homepage and be like, “Oh hey, superomegabuttcreator69 posted a new lora, time to try it out!” This continued engagement could also help people remember to tip, maybe even implement it into this new home page itself!

Compromise, Make Early Access Viable :

A lot of people will still be upset by this, and it would also require a good amount of moderation to prevent abuse, but why not just enforce a release window with paywall content if you insist on having it? I personally don’t have an issue with an early access system as long as something is in place to ensure the content does actually release, and CivitAI already has an early access system built in, use that and integrate it with Tips! Make it so a creator could create a post that is early access with a tip requirement attached, users that have tipped to the creator at or over the amount get to see the post, otherwise it prompts users to tip. When creators create an early access post they could define how long it will stay early access and the cost of the entry. This system not only encourages and normalizes tipping even more, but it also would satisfy the people that may want to temporarily paywall content without actually preventing the resource from ever reaching the community, keeping that open source mentality. Also means that people won’t be discouraged from spending their Buzz on tips because they never know who could release that next early access stuff they wanna see! A couple of notes about this though, since it is still a system that would encourage abuse. Firstly, create a max early access period that is within reason, I personally would say 60 days, 2 months is a very long time for AI and the overall community moves fast. Secondly, set a max number of early access posts per-user or limit the time they can have stuff in early access if they post too many early access items. Thirdly, do not allow creators to delete their resource after a certain period and have it remain public for a similar amount of time to prevent people from just deleting their resource right before or after it goes public to effectively create a constant paywall. Lastly, check hashes of content released into early access with recently deleted content to help prevent people from just paywalling other people’s content that may not be on the site anymore and check these uploads occasionally for plagiarism and theft. You could also add in a reacquiring tips/donations system for this feature. Honestly if Clubs had released with these systems I don’t think people would have been nearly as negative about them, and they wouldn’t have caused nearly the same amount of harm they have now, though this system would need to be available to everyone possible and not a select few or just top creators.

(Additional Note : This Early Access system is something most creators have already implemented and follow. It’s very common and considered pretty standard for a large number of genres.)

Press for Supporters of CivitAI Itself :

Everything I’ve suggested so far has been including Buzz as the currency, since CivitAI would both get a kickback since they determine payout prices and could determine how much they can afford, but also because it allows others that can’t pay to participate. But CivitAI also deserves support if they create a great service and I think some systems to promote supporting the site itself. In a follow-up edit that happened while I was writing this article cropped up on the feedback request article.

Now I don’t actually think this is a bad idea, limit download speeds but allow supporters to get faster speeds. I don’t think CivitAI needs to, or even should, copy their method exactly and it’s a bit concerning to me it mentions “models are too big for these speeds!” Well, then we adjust the speeds or maybe the method! I suggest a gradient where users would start with faster speeds but after a determined amount their speeds slow down unless they are a supporter. This means users who are just there for a single resource and are not causing massive strain or costs won’t really be affected, but users who use the site a lot and would be using the site enough to warrant a couple dollars a month would be incentivized to do so. It’s not always a clear-cut solution however, as this could dissuade people from using the site, but I think it’s a trade-off most people would be perfectly fine with, myself included. (Besides, there’s more than just CivitAI for distributing models, I host my models for download in multiple locations, if they don’t like the DL speed they can always move somewhere else.)

I also think CivitAI could add a donations banner, or create donation goals and display them on the site’s homepage along with the new homepage I suggested. This topic however is where my suggestions will run flat, I’m a creator, not a corporate business owner so I have no idea what kind of costs need to be recouped or what the most effective ways to do so really are. Creators have to be creative and work hard to garner support from a community, I guess CivitAI also may need to get creative, but I’m not the only source of feedback, listen to the community and see what else they suggest and figure something out!

Finally, Stop With The Lies and Be Honest :

The announcement and release, as well as the initial response to “Clubs” was very disappointing and has painted CivitAI and all the staff as just corporate trash. This is not something that CivitAI will be able to wash away with the open source community and many of its users, especially since they are still promoting the “Clubs” paywall feature that created this issue in the first place. It has not only affected users on the site either, but people in the Discord have also gotten increasingly hostile and negative, attacking people or discouraging any discussion of the issue, pushing even more people out of the active parts of the community. This along with other issues like inconsistent moderation, unclear rules and regulations for contests, questions about CivitAI’s true goals and intentions, and a lack of communication regarding features before they release like the “Clubs” paywall system. I don’t think saying “well we talked about it in office hours” is enough either, only a very small portion of the community will ever see or have interest in it, and I don’t think expecting people to go drastically out of their way to find obscure information, or just miss out because they happened to not be around during your office hours is a bit absurd. I think CivitAI needs to hire someone to communicate things much better, create proper guidelines, take community feedback more openly and actually reflect that feedback back so everyone sees it. There’s too many clear communication and clarity issues with CivitAI to list here, and my fingers are actually getting tired at this point, so I’ll wrap it up here. But this whole thing could have been avoided had CivitAI and staff actually decided to communicate all this better, they would have gotten the feedback before causing permanent damage to the community. Many of those creators who left are never coming back, those you selected to paywall content will now continue to do so because you told them it’s perfectly acceptable and what they ‘should’ be doing, and now others will follow their example and push people out of the industry with their hostile practices.

“Not I,” said the cat.
- Conclusion -

There was a story I was read quite often as a very young child. It’s called “The Little Red Hen.” It’s a folktale about a hen who finds a wheat seed and plans to grow some to bake a cake, but the work was very difficult for her, so she started asking the other animals around the farm for help. “Who will help me with…” “Not I” said the dog, “Not I” said the cat, “Not I” said the mouse, every step of the way. At the end the Hen finally succeeds despite the others refusing to help, but she could only make a cake for herself without help, and when the others come when they smell the cake, the Hen says no and is the only one who can enjoy the cake. The story’s moral is “you reap what you sow” and a call to assist others when in need. It’s a fairly timeless tale with a simple premise and a simpler delivery, but one that has meaning. ( reference, I don’t know the best resource but here is a link to one version of the book : https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/736345 )

So why am I bothering to write all this? It’s taken quite a long time at this point, why bother?

And, I guess, it’s because I think it matters. I was supposed to be finishing my article on how to create the perfect breasts with stable diffusion, but I simply couldn’t sit by and watch all this happen without at least trying to influence positive change. AI is constantly in an evolving state and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, we’ll have plenty of time to screw things up later so let’s try and not ruin it now, yeah? We don’t even know if it’s legal to sell AI models or images, but so many people are racing for a quick buck, to be the next OpenAI. But I would like to be different, I plant my seed by making articles like this one, providing the best version of my resources I can for creators to use, by helping the community on their struggles, working with individuals on collaborative projects, embracing positive change with all my heart and pressing for a brighter future while interacting with the community. Maybe with hard work I can turn my seed into a beautiful cake and enjoy my own slice of heaven, but cake tastes better with friends. I want this community to plant their seed with the best intentions and push toward the best possible outcome for everyone, so we can one day share this AI cake together. There’s so much around this world tearing us apart, so many incentives to do harm, we don’t have to be the same.

But in the end, regardless of whatever happens, we reap what we sow. Plant the best damn seed you ever had and share that cake, and I’ll share mine too.

- - - - -

You can also read this article or support my work through…

Our Discord - The Broken Chatbox : https://discord.gg/h3vB7S4FEw

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