Friday, April 12, 2024

The New York Times Files Lawsuit Against OpenAI and Microsoft Over AI Training


The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft by filing a federal lawsuit. The newspaper claims that the companies are using its articles without permission to train AI chatbots, thereby threatening its livelihood and potentially causing significant financial harm.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that OpenAI and Microsoft are effectively stealing billions of dollars’ worth of work by using Times’ material to train their generative AI models. The Times asserts that these chatbots, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, sometimes reproduce its content verbatim when providing answers to user queries.

The newspaper’s web traffic plays a crucial role in its advertising revenue and drives subscriptions to its online platform. However, the Times argues that AI chatbots divert this traffic away from the paper and other copyright holders. As a result, users are less likely to visit the original source for information, negatively impacting both revenue and readership.

Ian B. Crosby, partner and lead counsel at Susman Godfrey representing The Times, stated that these chatbots directly compete with the content they are trained on.

OpenAI responded to the lawsuit, expressing surprise and disappointment with the development. The company emphasized its commitment to working with content creators to help them benefit from AI technology and new revenue models. Microsoft, on the other hand, did not provide any comment on the matter.

AI companies typically scrape information available online, including articles published by news organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. These large language models also rely on a vast collection of human-written materials to enhance their language skills and accurately answer questions. However, the technology is still in development and prone to errors.

The New York Times cited an example in the lawsuit where OpenAI’s GPT-4 falsely attributed product recommendations to Wirecutter, the paper’s product reviews site. This misattribution put Wirecutter’s reputation at risk.

OpenAI and other AI companies, such as Anthropic, have attracted billions of dollars in investments due to the growing interest in AI technology. Microsoft, in particular, has a partnership with OpenAI that allows it to leverage the company’s AI capabilities. As part of this collaboration, Microsoft’s supercomputers power OpenAI’s research, and OpenAI’s technology is integrated into Microsoft products.

This lawsuit comes as the number of copyright infringement lawsuits against OpenAI continues to rise. Several writers, including comedian Sarah Silverman, have sued OpenAI for allegedly using their books to train AI models without permission. In June, over 4,000 writers signed a letter accusing tech companies, including OpenAI, of exploitative practices in building chatbots.

Legal action and concerns over AI technology have also emerged in other industries, such as Hollywood. Stakeholders across various sectors are realizing that AI could disrupt their entire business models. Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute, acknowledged that The New York Times is facing a genuine threat from these chatbots. However, she believes that completely solving this issue will be challenging due to the widespread use of similar language models by various companies.

The Times did not specify the damages it is seeking in the lawsuit but is requesting the court to hold the tech companies responsible for billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages caused by copying and using its work. Additionally, the newspaper is asking the court to order the destruction of any AI models or datasets that incorporate its copyrighted material.

The News/Media Alliance, a trade group representing over 2,200 news organizations, expressed support for The Times’ legal action. The alliance emphasized that using journalism without permission or payment is unlawful and not considered fair use.

In July, OpenAI reached an agreement with The Associated Press to license AP’s archive of news stories for AI training purposes. OpenAI also recently signed a similar partnership with Axel Springer, a Berlin-based media company that owns Politico and Business Insider. Under this collaboration, users of OpenAI’s ChatGPT will receive summaries of selected global news content from Axel Springer’s media brands. The answers provided by ChatGPT will include proper attribution and links to the original articles.

The New York Times compares its lawsuit to a copyright case from over two decades ago involving Napster, a file-sharing service sued by record companies for unauthorized use of their material. The record companies won the case, leading to significant changes in the music industry. The Times hopes that its legal action will similarly address the challenges posed by AI technology.

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