Right before 2023 wrapped, the US news organization The New York Times sued OpenAI for copyright infringement in ChatGPT. The company claims the AI chatbot has been illegally trained with large amounts of The Times’ journalistic content and now regurgitates said content almost verbatim in their responses, infringing on the Times’ intellectual property, stealing away its business, and hurting its reputation.
This legal showdown could potentially end in the US Supreme Court, something many experts have long been predicting will need to happen in order to finally define a legal frame for generative AI technologies.
On December 27, 2023, The New York Times (NYT) filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement. The document alleges that OpenAI has unauthorizedly used millions of articles from The Times to train its AI chatbot ChatGPT, which is now competing with the news outlet as a reliable source of information. Microsoft is also included in the lawsuit as a major investor in OpenAI, which is integrating ChatGPT into its Bing search engine.
The damages pursued aren’t specified, but it states that the defendants should be held accountable for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times's uniquely valuable works.” Additionally, The Times calls for the destruction of any chatbot models trained with a training dataset that incorporates copyrighted material from the newspaper.
In the lawsuit presented in Federal District Court in Manhattan, The NYT presented evidence of cases in which ChatGPT –both in its stand-alone app and in the Bing integration– delivered an almost word-for-word copy of one of the outlet’s pay-per-read articles without linking back or credit to the source.
In the same vein, they included examples of ChatGPT regurgitating near-exact copies of content taken from Wirecutter, an NYT-owned product review site, but striping it off from affiliate links that allow the company to monetize said content.
Finally, they added samples of ChatGPT responses that claim to be sourced from the NYT but contain “hallucinations” –content completely made up by the software, usually wildly incorrect–.
As the news organization presents itself as a pioneer in online journalism business models that helped it survive some of the last decade’s technology advancements that threatened traditional news reporting, they now claim that OpenAI is effectively stealing traffic and, thus, revenue from them, thanks to the illegal use of their intellectual property to train chatbot models, which now directly compete with their journalistic offerings They also allege that the AI developers specifically sought after content from this source due to its highly regarded reputation as a news and information source.
According to NYT, they approached OpenAI about this issue in April 2023 but failed to yield a resolution.
A spokesperson for OpenAI, Lindsey Held, has issued a statement to the press that the NYT quoted that assures they have been in what they thought were constructive talks with The Times and are “surprised and disappointed” with the lawsuit. It further adds they “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” and hope to find a mutually beneficial solution for this issue. The AI startup has already closed deals with other news outlets like the Associated Press regarding the use of their intellectual property.
Microsoft has also tried to address the copyright concerns about its AI products through a legal guarantee that ensures users they’ll cover the costs of any legal claims made against them for the use of AI-generated content created with its tools.
Back to OpenAI, one of its early investors publicly expressed his concerns about copyright claims against generative AI back in October, assuring that if AI developing companies are held liable for copyright infringement, it would significantly hinder generative AI advancements and ruin the US’s leading position in the incipient AI market.
For over a year now, multiple experts from legal and media backgrounds have predicted that reshaping the copyright laws and media regulations to contain generative AI technology would require a Supreme Court verdict.
The NYT’s lawsuit against OpenAI isn’t the first of its kind –multiple big names in literature, entertainment, and media licensing have done the same, individually or collectively, over the course of the last year– but it is the first where a heavyweight in the news industry goes against generative AI firms.
The news organization claims this infringement case isn’t affecting only its individual business but hurting journalism –and its business- as a whole.
Because of those factors, this has all the potential to end at the US Supreme Court and shape the future of copyright law in the context of evolving A.I. technologies, its innovation opportunities, and the competitive landscape.
We are less than a week into 2024, but we’ll have to watch closely as events unfold because this might very well be the year that sees a legal frame for generative AI established.
I am an experienced author with expertise in digital communication, stock media, design, and creative tools. I have closely followed and reported on AI developments in this field since its early days. I have gained valuable industry insight through my work with leading digital media professionals since 2014.
AI Secrets is a platform for tech decision-makers to learn about AI technology. Our team includes experts such as Amos Struck (20+ yrs ICT, Stock Photo, AI), Ivanna Attie (expert in digital comms, design, stock media), and more who share their views on AI.
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