AI open letter: authors including Margaret Atwood urge companies to honour copyright

AI open letter: authors including Margaret Atwood urge companies to honour copyright

by Suswati Basu

In an AI open letter published today (July 19, 2023), thousands of authors from around the world have called for greater transparency and accountability in the development of artificial intelligence. The letter, which was organised by The Authors Guild, warns that “AI regurgitates what it takes in, which is the work of human writers”, and that it is essential that authors and other creative professionals be involved in the development of AI systems.

“When writers have to give up their profession, it is a grave problem for all of us, not just the writers, because far fewer great books get written and published; and a free, democratic culture depends on a healthy, diverse ecosystem in which all views and voices are heard and ideas exchanged,” the letter states. “The Authors Guild believes that cooperation with AI industry leaders is vital to safeguarding the writing profession.”

“Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays, and poetry provide the “food” for AI systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill”

Which authors have signed the AI open letter?

The letter is signed by a wide range of authors, including Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Roxane Gay, and Celeste Ng. It also includes signatories from the worlds of academia, technology, and law.

Read: Does AI mean the end of literature? – NationalWorld

In fact, a staggering 9,000 writers and their supporters have signed the letter including luminaries such as Dan Brown, James Patterson, Jennifer Egan, David Baldacci, Michael Chabon, Nora Roberts, Jesmyn Ward, Jodi Picoult, Ron Chernow, Michael Pollan, Suzanne Collins, Louise Erdrich, Viet Thanh Nguyen, George Saunders, Min Jin Lee, Andrew Solomon, Rebecca Makkai, Tobias Wolff, and many others.

Why have authors signed this letter?

The Guild’s letter also points out that the bulk of the books used in the “training” datasets originated from pirate sources and websites, and calls into question AI companies’ fair use arguments. 

Per the letter, authors have seen a 40% drop in earnings in the past decade, with full-time writers’ median income in 2022 being just $23,330, the Authors Guild’s found after surveying over 5,700 participants. It essentially poses a threat to author’s copyrights as a result.

What are the demands in the AI open letter?

The Authors Alliance has said that it is open to working with the AI community to address the concerns raised in the letter.The demands listed in the letter include:

  • 1. Obtain permission for use of our copyrighted material in your generative AI programs.
  • 2. Compensate writers fairly for the past and ongoing use of our works in your generative AI programs.
  • 3. Compensate writers fairly for the use of our works in AI output, whether or not the outputs are infringing under current law.

Consequently, the open letter is the latest in a series of calls for greater transparency and accountability in the development of AI. In recent months, a number of organisations have raised concerns about the potential for AI to be used for harmful purposes.

How have AI companies responded?

OpenAI, Google, Meta, Stability AI, IBM, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to the letter. OpenAI said in a statement to the Journal that ChatGPT is trained on “licensed content, publicly available content, and content created by human AI trainers and users.” It also adds that the company respects the rights of creators and authors.

What other AI lawsuits have been filed?

It comes as two award-winning authors recently sued OpenAI, accusing the generative-AI platform of violating copyright law by using their published books to train ChatGPT without their consent. In June, authors Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay filed a suit, claiming that ChatGPT’s underlying large language model “ingested” the copyrighted work of the case’s plaintiffs. Comedian Sarah Silverman has also brought a suit over allegations regarding her book.

In Tuesday’s letter, the authors also cited the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Warhol v. Goldsmith. They argued that the court’s decision to side with the photographer shows “no court would excuse copying illegally sourced works as fair use.”

How have AI experts responded?

The letter has been met with a mixed response from the AI community. Some have welcomed the letter, while others have criticised it for being too alarmist. Gabriele Fariello, who has been the chief information officer at the Harvard School of Engineering, said it was unclear how it could be seen as a breach of copyright.

He said: “I understand their concerns, but they need to explain how a human reading their work and trying to emulate their style in some new work is violating copyright. If they are not, which they aren’t, then neither is #AI.”

Not to mention, in May, a group of AI experts published a letter calling for a “moratorium” on the development of AI systems that could be used for “social scoring.” Social scoring is a system that uses AI to rank people based on their behaviour. It has been used in China to track and monitor citizens.

As a result, the open letter from The Authors Guild is a sign that the concerns about AI are growing. It is likely that we will see more calls for greater transparency and accountability in the coming months and years.

Sign The Authors Guild letter here.

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