The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over AI's Use of Copyrighted Works

The New York Times on Wednesday sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, opening a new front in the increasingly heated legal battle over the unauthorized use of published works to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, creators of ChatGPT and other popular AI platforms, over copyright issues related to their written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, alleges that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that are now competing with the news organization as a source of reliable information.

The lawsuit does not contain a precise monetary claim. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of the Times’ uniquely valuable works.” It also requires the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use The Times’ copyrighted material.

Representatives from OpenAI and Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative AI technologies — so-called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could have significant implications for the news industry. The Times is one of the few media outlets that has built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hampered by the migration of their readers online.

At the same time, OpenAI and other AI technology companies that use a variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots, are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

OpenAI is now valued by investors at more than $80 billion. Microsoft has committed $13 billion to OpenAI and integrated the company’s technology into its Bing search engine.

“Defendants seek to exploit the Times’ massive investment in its journalism,” the lawsuit says, accusing OpenAI and Microsoft of “exploiting the Times’ content without payment to develop products that replace the Times and the Times.” Taking away the audience.”

The defendants had no opportunity to make statements in court.

Given the technology’s ability to mimic natural language and generate sophisticated written responses to virtually any prompt, concerns about the gratuitous use of intellectual property by AI systems are widespread in the creative industries.

Actress Sarah Silverman joined two lawsuits in July accusing Meta and OpenAI of “swallowing” her memoir as a training text for AI programs. Novelists expressed alarm when it was revealed that AI systems had absorbed tens of thousands of books, prompting a lawsuit from authors including Jonathan Franzen and John Grisham. Getty Images, the photography syndicate, sued an AI company that generates images based on written prompts, saying the platform relied on unauthorized use of Getty’s copyrighted imagery.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, appears to follow an impasse in negotiations between The Times, Microsoft and OpenAI. In its complaint, The Times said it contacted Microsoft and OpenAI in April to raise concerns about the use of its intellectual property and to explore “an amicable solution” – possibly with a commercial agreement and “technological guardrails” for generative AI -Products – but the discussions did not lead to a solution.

In addition to the goal of protecting intellectual property, The Times’ lawsuit portrays ChatGPT and other AI systems as potential competitors in the news business. When chatbots are asked about current events or other newsworthy topics, they can generate answers based on previous journalists of the Times based. The newspaper expresses concern that readers will be satisfied with a chatbot response and decline to visit the Times website, reducing web traffic that can be converted into advertising and subscription revenue.

The complaint cites several examples in which a chatbot provided users with near-verbatim excerpts from Times articles that would otherwise require a paid subscription to view. It is alleged that OpenAI and Microsoft placed particular emphasis on using Times journalism to train their AI programs because of the perceived reliability and accuracy of the material.

Media organizations have spent the past year examining the legal, financial and journalistic implications of the generative AI boom. Some news outlets have already reached deals to use their journalism: Associated Press struck a licensing deal with OpenAI and Axel Springer in July, and the German publisher that owns Politico and Business Insider did the same this month. Terms of these agreements were not disclosed.

After the Axel Springer deal was announced, an OpenAI spokesperson said the company “respects the rights of content creators and owners and believes they should benefit from AI technology,” adding: “We are optimistic that “We will continue to find mutually beneficial ways to work together to support a rich news ecosystem.”

The Times also examines how the emerging technology can be used. The newspaper recently hired an editorial director for artificial intelligence initiatives to establish protocols for using AI in the newsroom and explore ways to integrate the technology into the company’s journalism.

In an example of how AI systems use the Times’ material, the lawsuit showed that Browse With Bing, a Microsoft search feature powered by ChatGPT, reproduced results almost verbatim from Wirecutter, the Times’ product review site. However, Bing’s text results did not link to the Wirecutter article and they removed the referral links in the text that Wirecutter uses to generate commissions from sales based on its recommendations.

“Decreased traffic to Wirecutter articles and, in turn, decreased traffic to affiliate links, subsequently resulted in lost revenue for Wirecutter,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit also highlights the potential damage to The Times’ brand from so-called AI “hallucinations,” a phenomenon in which chatbots insert false information that is then incorrectly attributed to a source. The complaint cites several instances in which Microsoft’s Bing chat provided false information purporting to have come from the Times, including results for “the 15 most heart-healthy foods,” 12 of which were not mentioned in a newspaper article.

“If the Times and other news organizations cannot produce and protect their independent journalism, a vacuum will be created that neither computers nor artificial intelligence can fill,” the complaint says. It continues: “Less journalism will be produced and the costs to society will be enormous.”

The Times has retained law firm Susman Godfrey as lead outside counsel for the litigation. Susman represented Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation case against Fox News, which resulted in a $787.5 million settlement in April. Susman also filed a proposed class action lawsuit last month against Microsoft and OpenAI on behalf of nonfiction authors whose books and other copyrighted material were used to train the companies’ chatbots.

Benjamin Mullin contributed reporting.


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