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The New York Times office in New York. Alamy Stock Photo

New York Times sues OpenAI and Microsoft for using its articles to train AI chatbot

Last year “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin and other best-selling fiction writers filed a class-action lawsuit against OpenAI.

THE NEW YORK Times has sued ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and Microsoft in a US court today, alleging that the companies’ powerful AI models used millions of articles for training without permission.

Through their AI chatbots (Large Language Models), the companies “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 lawsuit said.

With the suit, the New York Times chose a more confrontational approach to the sudden rise of AI chatbots, in contrast to other media groups such as Germany’s Axel Springer or the Associated Press that have entered content deals with OpenAI.

The Times, one of the most respected news organizations in the United States, is seeking damages, as well as an order that the companies stop using its content – and destroy data already harvested.

Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI, and swiftly implemented the powers of its LLMs in its own products after the release of ChatGPT last year.

The AI models that power ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Copilot (formerly Bing) were trained for years on content available on the internet, under the assumption that it was fair to be used without need for compensation.

But the lawsuit argued that the unlawful use of the Times’ work to create artificial intelligence products threatened its ability to provide quality journalism.

“These tools were built with and continue to use independent journalism and content that is only available because we and our peers reported, edited, and fact-checked it at high cost and with considerable expertise,” a spokesperson for the Times said.

The Times did not list specific damages that it is seeking, but said the legal 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 Times’s uniquely valuable works”.

In July, OpenAI and The Associated Press announced a deal for the artificial intelligence company to license AP’s archive of news stories.

However, The New York Times said it has never given permission to anyone to use its content for generative AI purposes.

The lawsuit also follows what appears to be breakdowns in talks between the newspaper and the two companies.

The Times said it reached out to Microsoft and OpenAI in April to raise concerns about the use of its intellectual property and reach a resolution on the issue.

During the talks, the newspaper said it sought to “ensure it received fair value” for the use of its content, “facilitate the continuation of a healthy news ecosystem, and help develop GenAI technology in a responsible way that benefits society and supports a well-informed public”.

“These negotiations have not led to a resolution,” the lawsuit said.

The emerging AI giants are facing a wave of lawsuits over their use of internet content to build their AI systems.

Last year “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin and other best-selling fiction writers filed a class-action lawsuit against OpenAI, accusing the startup of violating their copyrights to fuel ChatGPT.

Universal and other music publishers have sued artificial intelligence company Anthropic in a US court for using copyrighted lyrics to train its AI systems and in generating answers to user queries.

With lawsuits piling up, Microsoft and AI player Google have announced they would provide legal protection for customers sued for copyright infringement over content generated by its AI.

- © AFP 2023  with reporting from Press Association 

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