Big-Name Authors Sue OpenAI for 'Systematic Theft'

John Grisham, George RR Martin join lawsuit alleging pirated works helped train ChatGPT
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2023 6:27 AM CDT
Big-Name Authors Accuse OpenAI of 'Systematic Theft'
The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays output from ChatGPT, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Boston.   (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

A new group of authors is suing OpenAI, alleging "flagrant and harmful infringements" on their copyrights through the company's use of pirated books to train the AI chatbot ChatGPT. "At the heart of these algorithms is systematic theft on a mass scale," reads the complaint, filed Tuesday in New York, per Rolling Stone. "The success and profitability of OpenAI are predicated on mass copyright infringement without a word of permission from or a nickel of compensation to copyright owners," it continues, per the New York Times. There are 17 plaintiffs, including high-profile novelists David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, John Grisham, Elin Hilderbrand, George RR Martin, Jodi Picoult, George Saunders, and Scott Turow.

The complaint—backed by the Authors Guild, which previously organized a letter, signed by some 8,500 authors, urging tech companies to compensate them for use of copyrighted work—says OpenAI has admitted to using copyrighted work to train ChatGPT. Which works are unclear. But the complaint claims ChatGPT can produce summaries of books with details not available online, indicating the program learned books cover to cover. Novelist Douglas Preston, who joined the suit, says ChatGPT was able to give him detailed information about minor characters in his books. "That's when I looked at this and said, 'My God, ChatGPT has read my books,'" he tells the Times. "It knew everything, and that's when I got a bad feeling."

By creating "derivative works" that summarize and mimic the work of authors, ChatGPT is potentially harming the market for that work without compensating the authors affected, the suit claims. It adds OpenAI chose to feed pirated copies of authors' works into its system rather than paying "a reasonable licensing fee to use copyrighted works," making this "a straightforward infringement case applying well-established law to well-recognized copyright harms." This is just the latest suit brought by authors against AI systems. Last month, OpenAI argued another copyright suit brought by authors should be dismissed because use of texts "for innovations" constitutes fair use, per the Times. (Read more artificial intelligence stories.)

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