A group of renowned novelists, including George R.R. Martin, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen, and Elin Hilderbrand, has taken the lead in a growing legal battle against OpenAI, citing concerns about the intrusion of artificial intelligence (AI) into creative domains. The lawsuit, filed against OpenAI on Tuesday, involves over a dozen authors who accuse the well-funded tech company, with substantial backing from Microsoft, of violating their copyright by employing their literary works to train their popular ChatGPT chatbot.
The Authors Guild, in conjunction with these prominent writers, has launched this legal action, asserting that OpenAI’s chatbots now have the ability to generate “derivative works” that closely mimic and summarize the authors’ literary creations. These actions could potentially harm the market for the authors’ original works, all without their consent or notification from OpenAI.
The crux of the complaint revolves around the claim that OpenAI’s success and profitability hinge upon the widespread infringement of copyright, occurring without any form of authorization or compensation to the rightful copyright holders. These allegations raise significant ethical questions about the boundaries of AI training practices and the protection of intellectual property rights in the digital era.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, underscores that OpenAI, although not disclosing the specific literary works used for training, has acknowledged its reliance on copyrighted content.
The lawsuit has garnered substantial attention due to its famous plaintiffs, including best-selling authors from diverse literary genres such as David Baldacci, Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, and Michael Connelly. Their involvement underscores the gravity of the concerns voiced by authors who rely on their creative output for their livelihoods.
Douglas Preston, a novelist involved in the lawsuit, expressed his astonishment when ChatGPT provided intricate details about minor characters from his books, information that was not accessible through conventional reviews or Wikipedia entries. This revelation has ignited discussions about the extent to which AI systems may have assimilated the entire body of an author’s work.
This lawsuit represents the latest in a series of legal actions filed by authors against OpenAI and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. While legal experts remain divided over whether AI programs utilizing copyrighted works to create substantially different content constitute fair use, the outcomes of these lawsuits could profoundly shape the future of AI development and the rights of content creators.
It isn’t the first lawsuit of its kind. In late June, a lawsuit was filed by authors Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay, who claim that OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot incorporated their copyrighted works without permission.
In their lawsuit, Awad and Tremblay seek damages and the restitution of what they claim are lost profits. The filing also included ChatGPT-produced summaries of Awad’s novels 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl and Bunny as well as Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World which was adapted into the film Knock at the Cabin (2023) by M. Night Shyamalan.
According to Insider, Daniel Gervais, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, believes that this lawsuit is just the start of several upcoming copyright cases targeting generative AI tools, and he anticipates more to follow as these technologies advance.
The debate surrounding copyright in the context of AI remains unsettled, and the lawsuit symbolizes a critical juncture in the ongoing discourse regarding the responsibilities and boundaries of AI technology within the realm of creative industries. As the lawsuit progresses, it raises essential questions about the interplay between AI and art and underscores the imperative need for clear safeguards to preserve the rights of content creators in the digital age.
A typical challenge for authors in these cases lies in proving that OpenAI’s data-collection practices caused them financial harm, as alleged in the complaint in the June complaint. Gervais suggests that ChatGPT might have sourced Awad and Tremblay’s work from alternative datasets rather than directly from the authors.
OpenAI has yet to issue an official response to these allegations.