Supergroup of authors including George R.R. Martin sue OpenAI

Supergroup of authors including George R.R. Martin sue OpenAI

by Suswati Basu

In a momentous legal battle, the Authors Guild, in conjunction with 17 eminent authors, has initiated a class-action lawsuit against OpenAI within the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York. This lawsuit revolves around allegations of copyright violation concerning the unauthorised utilisation of fictional works to train OpenAI’s language models, which encompass GPT-3.5 and GPT-4. The authors leading this legal action include notable figures such as David Baldacci, John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, Jonathan Franzen, and Jodi Picoult.

“Defendants’ decision to copy authors’ works, done without offering any choices or providing any compensation, threatens the role and livelihood of writers as a whole.”

Rachel Geman, Plaintiffs Co-Counsel

The lawsuit contends that OpenAI’s decision to incorporate copyrighted material without consent or compensation poses a profound threat to the livelihoods of authors. As Rachel Geman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and the proposed class, articulates, “Without the copyrighted works of the Plaintiffs and the proposed class, Defendants would possess a substantially different commercial product.” The Authors Guild emphasises that although they do not oppose the evolution of generative AI, it should not occur at the expense of authors’ intellectual property rights.

Authors to sue OpenAI:

  • David Baldacci
  • Mary Bly
  • Michael Connelly
  • Sylvia Day
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • John Grisham
  • Elin Hilderbrand
  • Christina Baker Kline
  • Maya Shanbhag Lang
  • Victor LaValle
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Douglas Preston
  • Roxana Robinson
  • George Saunders
  • Scott Turow
  • Rachel Vail.
Read: More authors sue OpenAI and Meta over copyright due to training

Scott Sholder, another co-counsel for the plaintiffs, observes that OpenAI had viable alternatives for training its language models, such as employing public domain works or acquiring licensing through fair means. However, they chose to employ copyrighted works without obtaining permission.

“Plaintiffs don’t object to the development of generative AI, but Defendants had no right to develop their AI technologies with unpermitted use of the authors’ copyrighted works.”

Scott Sholder, Plaintiffs Co-Counsel

The Authors Guild undertook this action after witnessing the adverse repercussions of unauthorised book usage on authors’ incomes and the entire author profession. The latest author income survey divulged that the median income for full-time authors in 2022 scarcely exceeded £15,000, signifying a significant threat to authors’ career sustainability. The ascent of generative AI exacerbates this predicament, prompting the unanimous decision to initiate this lawsuit.

Read: Authors’ pirated books used to train Generative AI

Maya Shanbhag Lang, President of the Authors Guild, asserts that this case marks the commencement of their campaign to safeguard authors from theft by OpenAI and other generative AI technologies. With a membership of nearly 14,000, the Authors Guild is well-placed to champion authors’ rights and guarantee equitable treatment of their creative endeavours.

“This case is merely the beginning of our battle to defend authors from theft by OpenAI and other generative AI.”

Maya Shanbhag Lang, Authors Guild President

The complaint also underscores the fact that OpenAI sourced books from unauthorised repositories and integrated them into its language models, thereby enabling the generation of texts for diverse applications and commercial purposes. This practice raises legal concerns about OpenAI’s actions and their potential impact on authors’ incomes.

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

OpenAI’s language models have already been employed to create books emulating the work of human authors, such as attempts to produce new instalments of George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series. Additionally, AI-generated books available on platforms like Amazon seek to profit from the established reputations of human authors, further exacerbating the issue.

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, underscores the urgency of halting this appropriation to preserve literary culture. She contends that authors must possess control over how generative AI utilises their works, given that these technologies primarily generate derivative content devoid of the essence of human creativity.

The lawsuit predominantly centres on fiction writers as a well-defined group, given the extensive use of GPT in replicating their work. However, the Authors Guild acknowledges that nonfiction markets are also at risk, and they are addressing these concerns.

What the authors say

Jonathan Franzen, a class representative, accentuates the significance of authors’ rights in determining when and how their works are employed for AI training. He also contends that authors who opt-in should be justly remunerated for their contributions.

“Generative AI is a vast new field for Silicon Valley’s longstanding exploitation of content providers. Authors should have the right to decide when their works are used to ‘train’ AI. If they choose to opt in, they should be appropriately compensated.”

Jonathan Franzen

Consequently, the economic ramifications of not addressing these issues extend beyond the author profession. Aspiring writers may be discouraged from pursuing writing careers, resulting in a loss of diversity and innovation in literature.

“I’m very happy to be part of this effort to nudge the tech world to make good on its frequent declarations that it is on the side of creativity.”

George Saunders

This lawsuit constitutes one of several endeavours to forestall a future dominated by artificial intelligence.

Christina Baker Cline is one of the authors who will sue OpenAI

What ChatGPT says

Speaking to IGN, ChatGPT representatives said: “We respect the rights of writers and authors, and believe they should benefit from AI technology.” They added that they were having productive conversations with the Authors Guild, and have been working cooperatively to understand and discuss their concerns about AI. Additionally, they hoped to “find mutually beneficial ways to work together to help people utilize new technology in a rich content ecosystem.”

Not to mention, OpenAI founder Sam Altman has in the past raised the question about how AI should behave and whether it will be the way creators intend.

Earlier this month, a handful of authors that included Michael Chabon and David Henry Hwang sued OpenAI in San Francisco for “clear infringement of intellectual property”.

The Authors Guild, being the oldest and largest professional organisation for published writers in the nation, serves as a resolute advocate for authors’ rights. Hence through this lawsuit, their objective is to defend the integrity of the written word and safeguard the livelihoods of authors in an era characterised by the rapid evolution of AI technology.

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