NY Times sues OpenAI, Microsoft for training chatbots with its content in landmark case

The New York Times has sued OpenAI and Microsoft in a case that some say could be a “watershed moment” for artificial intelligence technology.

OpenAI is the company behind the popular artificial intelligence-driven chatbot known as ChatGPT, while Microsoft “has a seat on OpenAI’s board and a multi-billion-dollar investment in the company” and also boasts its own AI chatbot known as the Bing chatbot, according to CNN.

The Times is suing both companies “to limit the use of alleged scraping of wide swaths of content from across the internet — without compensation — to train so-called large language artificial intelligence models,” CNN notes.

As it stands, OpenAI and Microsoft have reportedly been scraping content from news publishers like The Times and then using that information to train their AI bots to push out the same information to users who chat with it and ask it questions.

Filed Wednesday, the suit specifically says that The Times’ mission to inform its readers is threatened by OpenAI and Microsoft’s “unlawful use of The Times’s work to create artificial intelligence products that compete with it.”

“While Defendants engaged in widescale copying from many sources, they gave Times content particular emphasis,” demonstrating that they “seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment,” the suit reads.

The suit also notes that The Times started negotiating with OpenAI and Microsoft in April to receive compensation for its work but that the three parties have been unable to reach an amenable resolution.

OpenAI and Microsoft have argued that The Times’ so-called “work” is considered “fair use,” meaning others may use it because it’s “transformative.”

The Times disagrees with this classification.

“There is nothing ‘transformative’ about using The Times’s content without payment to create products that substitute for The Times and steal audiences away from it,” the paper’s suit reads.

“Because the outputs of Defendants’ GenAI models compete with and closely mimic the inputs used to train them, copying Times works for that purpose is not fair use,” the suit continues.

Especially when the bots are reportedly verbatim copying content from The Times.

“In one instance cited in the complaint, ChatGPT provided a user with the first three paragraphs of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning article ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,’ after the user complained in the chat of having hit the Times’ paywall and being unable to read it,” CNN notes.

In a statement, OpenAI expressed disappointment over the suit being filed.

“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,” spokesperson Lindsey Held said in a statement.

“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,” the statement continues.

The Times is not the first company to sue OpenAI over copyright infringement.

“In September, the Author’s Guild — a U.S.-based guild for writers — also launched a class-action lawsuit against OpenAI, alleging misuse of copyrighted material in training its AI models,” according to the CoinTelegram.

Meanwhile, earlier this year comedian Sarah Silverman and two book authors reportedly sued OpenAI and Meta on the basis that the companies’ respective AI technologies were using copyrighted content from their books.

That said, The Times’ suit could be a game-changer.

“The Times lawsuit could ultimately set a precedent for the wider industry, because the question of whether using copyrighted material to train AI models violates the law is an unsettled legal matter, according to Dina Blikshteyn, partner in the artificial intelligence and deep learning practice group at law firm Haynes Boonem,” CNN notes.

“I think there are going to be a lot of these types of suits that are popping up, and I think eventually [the issue will] make it up to the Supreme Court, at which point we’ll have some definite case law,” Blikshteyn said, adding that right now “there is nothing specific to large language models and AI just because it’s so new.”

Vivek Saxena

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