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Copyrights Conundrum: OpenAI Sued

Tech News : 27th September 2023

Copyrights Conundrum: OpenAI Sued


It’s been reported that a trade group for U.S. authors (including John Grisham) has sued OpenAI, accusing it of unlawfully training its chatbot ChatGPT on their work. 

Which Authors? 

The Authors Guild trade group has filed the lawsuit (in Manhattan federal court) on behalf of a number of prominent authors including John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders, Jodi Picoult, “Game of Thrones” novelist George R.R. Martin, “The Lincoln Lawyer” writer Michael Connelly and lawyer-novelists David Baldacci and Scott Turow. 

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Why? 

The Guild’s lawsuit alleges that the datasets that have been used to train OpenAI’s large language model (LLM) to respond to human prompts include text from the authors’ books, which may have been taken from illegal online “pirate” book repositories. 

As proof, the Guild alleges that ChatGPT can generate accurate summaries of the authors’ books when prompted (including details not available in reviews anywhere else online), which indicates that that their text must be included in its database.  

Also, the Authors Guild has expressed concerns that ChatGPT could be used to replace authors and instead could simply “generate low-quality eBooks, impersonating authors and displacing human-authored books.” 

Threat 

The Authors Guild said it organised the lawsuit after witnessing first-hand, “the harm and existential threat to the author profession wrought by the unlicensed use of books to create large language models that generate texts.” 

 

The Guild cites its latest author income survey as an example of how the income of authors could be adversely affected by LLMs. For example, in 2022 authors (according to the survey) earned just over $20,000, including book and other author-related activities, and although 10 percent of authors earn far above the median, half earn even less.  

The Authors Guild says, “Generative AI threatens to decimate the author profession.”  

The Point 

To illustrate the main point of the Guild’s allegations, Scott Sholder, a partner with Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard and co-counsel for Plaintiffs and the Proposed Class, is reported on their website as saying : “Plaintiffs don’t object to the development of generative AI, but Defendants had no right to develop their AI technologies with unpermitted use of the authors’ copyrighted works. Defendants could have ‘trained’ their large language models on works in the public domain or paid a reasonable licensing fee to use copyrighted works.” 

 

Open Letter With 10,000 Signatures 

The lawsuit may have been the inevitable next step considering that back in July, the Authors Guild submitted a 10,000 signature open letter to the CEOs of prominent AI companies (OpenAI, Alphabet, Meta, Stability AI, IBM, and Microsoft) complaining about the building of lucrative generative AI technologies using copyrighted works and asking AI developers get consent from, credit, and fairly compensate authors. 

What Does Open AI Say? 

As expected in a case where so much may be at stake, no direct comment has been made public by OpenAI (so far) although one source (Forbes) reported online that an OpenAI spokesperson has told it was involved in “productive conversation” many creators around (including the Authors Guild) to discuss their AI concerns. 

Where previous (copyright) lawsuits have been filed against it, in its defence OpenAI is reported to have pointed the idea of fair use that could be applied to LLMs. 

Others 

Other generative AI providers are also facing similar lawsuits, e.g. Meta Platforms and Stability AI. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Ever since ChatGPT’s disruptive introduction last November with its amazing generative abilities (e.g. with text and code, plus the abilities of image generators), creators (artists, authors, coders etc) have felt AI’s negative effects, expressed their fears about it, and felt the need to protest. For example, the Hollywood actors and writers strikes, complaints from artists that AI image generators have copied their styles, and now the Authors Guild are all part of a growing opposition who feel threatened and exploited.

We are still in the very early stages of generative AI where it appears to many that the technology may be running way ahead of regulation, and where AI providers may appear to be able to bypass areas of consent, copyright, and crediting, and in doing so, use the work of others to generate profits for themselves. This has led to authors, writers, actors, and other creatives fearing a reduction or loss of income and fearing that their skills and professions could be devalued, and that they can and will be replaced by AI. Also, they fear that generative AI could be preferred by studios and other content providers to reduce costs and complication, leading to the inevitable, multiple legal fights that we’re seeing now to clarify boundaries and protect themselves and their livelihoods. In the case of the very powerful Authors Guild, OpenAI will need to bring its ‘A’ game to the dispute as the Authors Guild points out it’s “here to fight” and has “a formidable legal team” with “expertise in copyright law.” 

This is not the only lawsuit against an AI provider and there are likely to be many more and many similar protests until legal outcomes provide more clarity of the boundaries in the altered environment created by generative AI.

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