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OpenAI and Microsoft accused of copyright infringement by New York Times

Written by Wed 3 Jan 2024

Image Credit: Reuters

The New York Times have sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement. The newspaper has accused the ChatGPT creator and its investor, Microsoft, of using its content to train generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). 

Filed in a Manhattan federal court on 27 December, the copyright infringement lawsuit alleged OpenAI’s GenAI tools can generate output that recites The New York Times’ content verbatim, closely summarises it, and mimics its style. This is claimed to be powered by large language models (LLMs) containing copies of The Times’ content.

Microsoft both invests in and supplies OpenAI, providing it with access to the company’s Azure cloud computing technology. To date, Microsoft has invested more than £7.8 billion ($10 billion) in OpenAI. 

“While the defendants engaged in widescale copying from many sources, they gave The Times content particular emphasis when building their LLMs, revealing a preference that recognises the value of those works,” said the publication in the filing.

The New York Times said that by providing its content without its permission, the defendants’ tools damaged The New York Times’s relationship with its readers. This also deprived the publication of subscription, licensing, advertising, and affiliate revenue. 

“Through Microsoft’s Bing Chat (recently rebranded as ‘Copilot’) and OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the defendants seek to free-ride on The Times’ massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment,” added The New York Times.

The filing alleged The New York Times reached out to Microsoft and OpenAI in April 2023 to raise intellectual property concerns and explore the possibility of an amicable resolution. However, these efforts were unsuccessful.

The Times said it ‘does not permit the kind of systematic and competitive infringement that the defendants have committed’. 

“This action seeks to hold them responsible for the billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages that they owe for the unlawful copying and use of The New York Times’s uniquely valuable works,” said the publication.

The lawsuit also called for the companies to destroy chatbot models and training data that used copyrighted content from the outlet.

History of Copyright Infringement Claims at OpenAI and Microsoft

In July, more than 15,000 authors signed an Authors Guild letter to AI company CEOs, including OpenAI and Microsoft, calling on AI industry leaders to safeguard writers. 

The open letter called attention to the injustice of building GenAI technologies using copyrighted works. It urged AI developers to seek consent, provide proper credit, and ensure fair compensation for authors. Notable signatories of the letter included Dan Brown, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, and Margaret Atwood.

In November 2022, a lawsuit was filed by software developers claiming that OpenAI, Microsoft, and programming site, GitHub, used their code without their permission to train an AI called Copilot.

Internal Issues at OpenAI and Microsoft

The new copyright infringement claims arrived months after Microsoft and OpenAI faced internal pressures. In November, co-founder of OpenAI, Sam Altman, was fired by the company for allegedly lying to the board.

Speculation remained about the specifics of the firing. CNN reported that the company was advancing too quickly in the landscape of AI and that Altman was risking a global catastrophe.

Altman was subsequently hired by Microsoft to lead a new AI research team with former OpenAI President, Greg Brockman. 

Almost all of the OpenAI workforce issued a collective ultimatum to OpenAI, stating that they would resign if the board did not resign and re-hire Altman. Altman agreed to return as CEO of OpenAI after this internal pressure from OpenAI investors and staff.

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Written by Wed 3 Jan 2024

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