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AI Threatens Authors and Creators of Intellectual Properties

The New York Times is taking the problem to court.

It’s a new year, 2024, which means newly enacted laws and regulations go into effect. When it comes to artificial intelligence, though, gray and confused areas make it difficult to navigate the rights and protections afforded to individuals and companies. The New York Times is taking a stand and filed a lawsuit in December against OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, claiming its material was used in training AI. Are accusations such as this about to become the new normal?

AI and Copyright Infringement Concerns

The Times is the first major media enterprise to take such action, going after AI companies for unauthorized use of published works. The goal of these artificial intelligence organizations is to train their algorithms to be more human-like. However, the AI-generated content taken from others is then used in competition against them.

GettyImages-1778704903 openai

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In September, members of the Authors Guild sued OpenAI, accusing it of engaging “in a systematic course of mass-scale copyright infringement” to “power their lucrative commercial endeavor.” Authors such as Paul Tremblay and Sarah Silverman already have sued AI producers for copyright infringement. Authors say ChatGPT generates themes and analyses of their novels. According to the complaint, “For example, when prompted, ChatGPT accurately generated summaries of several of the [Jonathan] Franzen Infringed Works, including summaries for The Corrections, Purity, and Freedom.”

One of the concerns is derivative work, which is material based on pre-existing, copyright-protected work. The lawsuit pointed out that AI tools enable the creation of derivative pieces, such as fan fiction. The Hollywood Reporter explained that ChatGPT, when prompted, generated the “next purported installment of While the Patient Slept, one of the Authors Guild Infringed Works, and titled the infringing and unauthorized derivative ‘Shadows Over Federie House,’” the complaint accused. The lawsuit added:

“For example, a business called Socialdraft offers long prompts that lead ChatGPT to engage in ‘conversations’ with popular fiction authors like Plaintiff [John] Grisham, Plaintiff [George R.R.] Martin, Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, and others about their works, as well as prompts that promise to help customers ‘Craft Bestselling Books with AI.’”

While The New York Times is the first major media company to file against AI companies, others have made deals. The Associated Press and Axel Springer (which owns Politico, Insider, and Bild) have reportedly cut deals that give access to news articles to train artificial intelligence companies’ AI algorithms for an undisclosed sum. Some, such as Bloomberg, The Guardian, and CNN, have been working to block ChatGPT’s web crawler from accessing their IPs.

NYT said in its complaint that it approached OpenAI and Microsoft in April 2023 about its concerns over their using the media company’s intellectual property and tried to explore “an amicable resolution,” but talks apparently failed to be productive. Lindsey Held, an OpenAI spokeswoman, said the company was “surprised and disappointed” by the lawsuit, adding, “We respect the rights of content creators and owners and are committed to working with them to ensure they benefit from A.I. technology and new revenue models. We’re hopeful that we will find a mutually beneficial way to work together, as we are doing with many other publishers.”

Will AI-generated content soon become a “trusted” news source?  The reality is that AI is here to stay and that it can and does generate content at a rate that far surpasses the human production level. Regardless of how “intelligent” the program happens to be, however, it is an imitator that lacks the vital spark of creativity that separates us from machines. At least for now.

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