The year 2023 saw the rise in popularity of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with industries adopting tools and individuals playing with innovations that were introduced.
Behind the excitement, however, was wariness over the veracity of the information provided in large language models like ChatGPT and the violation of copyright of publishers and content creators. The conversation on AI rose this year to become a debate between those who celebrate the benefits of AI and those who saw its perils to business and individual rights.
Book authors such as John Grisham and Scott Turow have so far filed complaints, saying that OpenAI and Microsoft Corp. might have co-opted tens of thousands of their books. None of the big copyright owners took legal action until four days before the end of 2023 when the New York Times came out with a surprise move.
It filed on Dec. 27, 2023 a complaint claiming that OpenAI and Microsoft used New York Times articles without permission. A Reuters report on the legal action said the Times was the first major United States media organization to sue OpenAI, creator of the popular artificial-intelligence platform ChatGPT, and Microsoft, an OpenAI investor and creator of the AI platform now known as Copilot, over copyright issues associated with its works.
OpenAI reacted by saying it respected the rights of content owners and that its ongoing conversation with the Times was “productive and moving forward constructively, so we are surprised and disappointed with this development.” Microsoft did not comment as of the Reuters’ report of Dec. 27.
The Times complaint is expected to open the floodgates for many similar cases because the claim of copyright infringement is not limited to huge publishers and content creators but can apply to any individual or organization whose material may be used by AI platforms without their permission.
The Times did not give a specific amount for its claim but it said the damage could run to the “billions of dollars.” It also said OpenAI and Microsoft must stop using its articles and should destroy chatbot models and training sets that use its material.
How the Times’ complaint will be resolved by the US District Court of New York will set a precedent for future disputes and also impact the development of AI. The AI platforms have said they used publishers’ content based on the principle of fair use in which limited use of copyrighted material can be allowed for purposes of criticism, commentary, or news reporting. But the Times said these platforms are exploiting its content without giving it compensation.
It may take years for this case to be settled and for questions about fair use to be answered.
The hope is that, while the case is in the United States, copyright owners in the global south, including small publishers and content generators, can benefit also from clarity on fair use and the powers of AI.