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New York Times sues OpenAI, Microsoft over the use of its stories to train chatbots

The New York Times has filed a federal lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft seeking to end the practice of using its stories to train chatbots, saying that copyright infringements at the paper alone could be worth billions.

The paper joins a growing list of individuals and publishers trying to stop OpenAI from using copyrighted material.

In the suit filed Wednesday in Manhattan federal court, the Times said OpenAI and Microsoft are advancing their technology through the “unlawful use of The Times’s work to create artificial intelligence products that compete with it” and “threatens The Times’s ability to provide that service”.

OpenAI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Media organisations have been pummelled by a migration of readers to online platforms and while many publications have carved out a digital space online as well, artificial intelligence technology has threatened to upend numerous industries, including media.

Artificial intelligence companies scrape information available online, including articles published by media organisations, to train generative AI chatbots. Those companies have attracted billions in investments very rapidly.

Microsoft has a partnership with OpenAI that allows it to capitalise on the AI technology made by the artificial intelligence company. The Redmon, Washington, tech giant is also OpenAI’s biggest backer and has invested billions of dollars into the company since the two began their partnership in 2019 with a US$1 billion investment. As part of the agreement, Microsoft’s supercomputers help power OpenAI’s AI research and the tech giant integrates the start-up’s technology into its products.

The number of lawsuits filed against OpenAI for copyright infringement is growing. The company has been sued by a number of writers – including comedian Sarah Silverman – who say their books were ingested to train OpenAI’s AI models without their permission. In June, more than 4,000 writers signed a letter to the CEOs of OpenAI, Google, Microsoft, Meta and other AI developers accusing them of exploitative practices in building chatbots that “mimic and regurgitate” their language, style and ideas.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday said generative AI tools developed by OpenAI and Microsoft are closely summarising content from the Times, mimicking its style and even reciting it verbatim. The complaint cited examples of OpenAI’s GPT-4 spitting out large portions of news articles from the Times, including a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigation into New York City’s taxi industry that was published in 2019 and took 18 months to complete. It also cited outputs from Bing Chat that it said included verbatim excerpts from Times articles.

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.”

The Times, however, is seeking the destruction of GPT and other large language models or training sets that incorporate its work.

In the complaint, the Times said Microsoft and OpenAI “seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investments in its journalism” by using it to build products without payment or permission.

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

The New York Times said it’s 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.


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