from the high-school-english-infringes? dept
It’s been eight years since the Authors Guild was thoroughly and totally embarrassed by losing its big lawsuit against Google over the Google Books scanning project. I guess they’re missing the feeling of embarrassment, as they’ve filed what is effectively the same damn suit against OpenAI over that company’s book scanning.
Now, I know, some folks are going to insist that this is somehow different, that AI makes things different, but if anything, I’d argue that the case against OpenAI is significantly weaker than the one against Google. In the case of Google, the company was actually showing snippets of the works. With OpenAI, its book scanning is only for the sake of training the AI. The AI systems are doing the equivalent of reading the books, but never displaying them, just learning from them.
The process is indistinguishable from how humans learn: they read books, and retain some details, and if asked to produce a summary of the work, or to create a work “in the style of” an author, they do so by taking what they’ve learned and producing an entirely new work. That’s all that OpenAI does as well. And unless we’re going to say that reading a book and producing a book report is infringing, then this case seems particularly pointless.
Now, this isn’t the first lawsuit by authors against OpenAI. We covered another one back in July, but rather than just a random list of authors and a desire to turn it into a class action, this new lawsuit is by the Authors Guild itself, and has a ton of big names, including John Grisham, Mary Bly, George Saunders, Scott Turow, Jonathan Franzen, and George R.R. Martin.
It’s not surprising that some of these authors are angry. Scott Turow (who had been a lawyer) used to run the Authors Guild, and was the architect of its failed attack on Google’s book scanning effort. He should have learned his lesson, but if we’ve learned anything over it’s the last decade it’s that Scott Turow’s hatred for the internet knows no bounds.
Some of the other authors you wish would be a bit more circumspect before going down this path.
Of course, with copyright law, the end result is always somewhat up in the air. Judges all too often fall under the sway of big names whining about their “lost money,” and are willing to ignore the text and limitations of copyright law for a chance to make the richest of the rich authors even wealthier.
But, this is a terrible lawsuit and should lose, and the Authors Guild should be embarrassed again. Everything about the complaint is dumb. The Authors Guild is somewhat famous for only looking out for the interests of its biggest name authors (and, bizarrely, publishers), and screwing over smaller authors. And you can see that in the complaint, which literally claims that without the authors suing here, OpenAI would have no product at all (which is just nonsense):
Unfairly, and perversely, without Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works on which to “train” their LLMs, Defendants would have no commercial product with which to damage—if not usurp—the market for these professional authors’ works. Defendants’ willful copying thus makes Plaintiffs’ works into engines of their own destruction.
No offense, but if OpenAI could “usurp” the market for these writers, then these writers suck and deserve to have their market usurped. Do these writers not actually believe they can write better stories than a computer?
How embarrassing for them to admit that. Also, as much as I’ve enjoyed some of their works in the past, this lawsuit tells me that these authors are cooked. They are admitting that they’re so uncreative a computer can outwrite them. Fair enough warning: no need to ever read any of their books any more.
Somewhat hilariously, the Authors Guild uses the fact that ChatGPT says that some of its training model may have come from in-copyright works as proof that they did:
ChatGPT itself admits as much. In response to a query submitted to it in January 2023, the chatbot responded: “It is possible that some of the books used to train me were under copyright. However, my training data was sourced from various publicly available sources on the internet, and it is likely that some of the books included in my training dataset were not authorized to be used. … If any copyrighted material was included in my training data, it would have been used without the knowledge or consent of the copyright holder.”
But… ChatGPT doesn’t actually know that. ChatGPT makes up its answers based on probabilistic scores, which is why it’s prone to “hallucinate” false things as true. While, it would only make sense that OpenAI was trained on such things because doing so would be fair use (given multiple court rulings regarding the computer scanning of copyright covered materials, including both search engines and book scanning), the fact that the Authors Guild thinks ChatGPT saying this is some sort of admission shows just how little (i.e., basically nothing) the Authors Guild and its lawyers understand any of this.
The lawsuit, bizarrely, highlights that some Authors Guild members are so bad at writing that they’d already lost jobs to ChatGPT:
An Authors Guild member who writes marketing and web content reported losing 75 percent of their work as a result of clients switching to AI.
Another content writer (unrelated to the Plaintiffs here) told the Washington Post that half of his annual income (generated by ten client contracts) was erased when the clients elected to use ChatGPT instead.
Why would you admit that? Incredibly, in the very next paragraph in the suit, the Authors Guild admits that AI-generated content is terrible. Right after admitting that its own members write worse. Incredible.
Recently, the owner of popular online publications such as Gizmodo, Deadspin, The Root, Jezebel and The Onion came under fire for publishing an error-riddled, AI-generated piece, leading the Writers Guild of America to demand “an immediate end of AI-generated articles” on the company’s properties.
The Authors Guild notes that it holds several copyrights itself, that it’s using in this lawsuit, including for Mignon Eberhart’s books, such as “The Patient in Room 18,” which was published in 1929 and will go into the public domain in less than a year and a half. Also there’s “While the Patient Slept.” That’s a book that was… published in 1930 and will go into the public domain in less than three years. Is the Authors Guild really claiming there’s some giant market for licensing books that are about to go into the public domain? Really?
And, again, like earlier suits, their big complaint is that these AI tools can do the same thing a 7th grade student can:
When prompted, ChatGPT generated an accurate summary of the final chapter of While the Patient Slept, one of the Authors Guild Infringed Works.
Generating a summary is not infringing, guys.
For another author, the complaint is that it generated a made up outline for the next book in a series of books, which is (again) often a task assigned in high school English classes (I remember having to draft an outline for a sequel to 1984, was I infringing too?)
Again, this complaint is pure hubris and greed from authors. The complaint cites a survey saying that authors believe they should be paid for having their works training AI systems, and who isn’t going to say they should get free money for doing nothing? That’s not how you determine if it’s actually infringing, though.
As mentioned above, copyright law is difficult to predict, because judges often go wacky, but this is a horrifically stupid lawsuit, following on some other similar lawsuits. The Authors Guild lost every bit of the Google Books scanning lawsuit, which was found to be transformative and fair use, and the same should be the case here as well.
Filed Under: ai, book reports, chatgpt, christina baker kline, copyright, david baldacci, douglas preston, elin hilderbrand, fair use, generative ai, george r.r. martin, george saunders, jodi picoult, john grisham, jonathan franzen, mary bly, maya shanbhag lang, michael connelly, rachel vail, roxana robinson, scott turow, summarization, sylvia day, transformative, victor lavalle
Companies: authors guild, openai