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The New York Times has become the first major US media company to sue OpenAI and Microsoft over their artificial intelligence chatbots, alleging the tech companies have taken a “free-ride” on millions of articles to build the groundbreaking technology.
The newspaper is seeking unspecified billions of dollars in damages from the two companies for “profit[ing] from the massive copyright infringement, commercial exploitation and misappropriation of The Times’s intellectual property”.
The move comes as media companies have grown increasingly concerned that generative AI models — which can spew out humanlike text, images and code in seconds — may have been fed their content during their creation without permission or compensation.
AI groups have said that ingesting and processing vast amounts of information that is available on the open internet constitutes “fair use” under US copyright laws. Publishers fear they will lose traffic, and therefore revenues, as a result of chatbots, such as OpenAI’s hugely popular ChatGPT, summarising their output.
“Defendants’ unlawful use of The Times’s work to create artificial intelligence products that compete with it threatens The Times’s ability to provide that service” of news, analysis and commentary, its lawsuit, which was filed in New York on Wednesday, alleged.
The newspaper claims the two tech companies have sought “to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment”.
OpenAI said: “We respect the rights of content creators and owners and are committed to working with them to ensure they benefit from AI technology and new revenue models. Our ongoing conversations with the New York Times have been productive and moving forward constructively, so we are surprised and disappointed with this development. We’re hopeful that we will find a mutually beneficial way to work together, as we are doing with many other publishers.”
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.
Microsoft is OpenAI’s biggest backer after committing up to $13bn to fuel the company’s growth and provide the huge technical infrastructure needed to create its AI models. OpenAI’s GPT technology also underpins Microsoft’s Bing Chat, a feature within the software giant’s search engine.
News publishers around the world have been meeting AI companies including OpenAI, Microsoft and Google for several months in an effort to hammer out deals to license their content.
This month, Germany’s Axel Springer struck a deal with OpenAI worth tens of millions of euros a year to let its AI systems use content from outlets such as Bild, Politico and Business Insider.
The Times’s lawsuit alleges the company has held similar discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI “for months”. “These negotiations have not led to a resolution,” it stated.
The Times’s challenge is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against OpenAI, alleging copyright infringement. In September, a group of bestselling authors including John Grisham, David Baldacci, Jonathan Franzen and George RR Martin sued the tech group, accusing its algorithms of being engaged in “systematic theft on a mass scale”.
Journalist and writer Julian Sancton filed a similar complaint the following month, and was soon joined by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, among others.
While OpenAI’s lawyers have yet to respond to those two suits, they have responded to a proposed class action filed in California, arguing that some of the claims should be dismissed as its model can rely on the “fair use” doctrine. They claimed this doctrine had been interpreted by “numerous courts” to mean that the use of “copyrighted materials by innovators in transformative ways does not violate copyright”.
OpenAI’s lawyers have also pointed to an order in a separate challenge brought against Meta’s AI model in California by comedian Sarah Silverman and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others, in which the court found that the output of the company’s large language model was not “substantially similar” to the books written by the plaintiffs.
Shares in The New York Times Company rose about 1 per cent on Wednesday morning.
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