The New York Times on Wednesday sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, opening a new front in an increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published works to train artificial intelligence technologies.
The Times is the first major US media organization to sue the creators of ChatGPT and other popular AI platforms over copyright issues related to its written works. The suit was filed in federal district court in ManhattanIt argues that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.
There is no exact cash requirement in this case. But it says the defendants are liable for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of personally valuable works of The Times.” It calls on companies to destroy chatbot models and training data that use the Times' copyrighted content.
In its complaint, The Times said it reached out to Microsoft and OpenAI in April to explore “an amicable resolution” raising concerns about its use of intellectual property, a commercial agreement and “technical safeguards” surrounding the AI products it develops. But it is said that no decision has been reached in these talks.
OpenAI spokeswoman Lindsey Held said in a statement that the company was “creatively moving forward” in conversations with The Times and was “surprised and disappointed” by the lawsuit.
“We respect the rights of content creators and owners and are committed to working with them to ensure they benefit from AI technology and new revenue models,” Ms Heldt said. “As we work with many publishers, we hope to find a mutually beneficial way.”
Microsoft declined to comment on the case.
The case could test emerging legal definitions of generative AI technologies — the so-called text, images and other content they can generate after learning from large data sets — and could have major implications for the news industry. The Times is one of a small number of outlets that have developed successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of other newspapers and magazines have been inspired by the migration of readers to the Internet.
At the same time, OpenAI and other AI technology companies — using a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.
OpenAI is now valued at more than $80 billion by investors. Microsoft has committed $13 billion to OpenAI and has incorporated the company's technology into its Bing search engine.
“Defendants seek to invest heavily in The Times' journalism,” the complaint says, accusing OpenAI and Microsoft of “using The Times' content to create products that are substitutes for The Times and to steal audiences.”
Defendants have no opportunity to respond in court.
Concerns about the uncompensated use of intellectual property by AI systems have spread through the creative industries, given the technology's ability to mimic natural language and generate sophisticated written responses to any stimulus.
Actress Sarah Silverman joined a pair of lawsuits in July that accused Meta and OpenAI of “absorbing” her memoir as a training text for AI programs. Novelists expressed alarm when it was revealed that AI systems had absorbed tens of thousands of books, leading to lawsuits by authors including Jonathan Franzen and John Grisham. Getty Images sued the photography syndicate, an AI company that creates images based on written prompts, claiming it was using Getty's copyrighted visual material on the platform without authorisation.
The boundaries of copyright law often come under fresh scrutiny at moments of technological change — such as the advent of broadcast radio or digital file-sharing programs like Napster — and the use of artificial intelligence is emerging as the latest frontier.
“Supreme Court Judgment Essentially Inevitable” Richard Tofel, former president of the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica and a consultant on the news business, said of the recent cases. “Some publishers will settle for some time — including, possibly, The Times — but not enough publishers want to address this novel and important issue of copyright law.”
Microsoft has previously acknowledged potential copyright concerns over its AI products. In September, The company announced If customers using its AI tools are affected by copyright complaints, it will compensate them and cover related legal costs.
Other voices in the tech industry are more assertive in their approach to copyright. In October, wrote Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm and early backer of OpenAI. In comments to the US Copyright Office Exposing AI companies to copyright liability “would kill or significantly hinder their development.”
“The result will be much less competition, much less innovation, and the loss of America's position as a leader in global AI development,” the investment firm said in its report.
In addition to seeking to protect intellectual property rights, the Times' lawsuit casts ChatGPT and other AI systems as potential competitors in the news business. When the chatbots are asked about current events or other newsworthy topics, they can generate answers based on The Times journalism. Newspaper readers will be satisfied with the chatbot's response and refuse to visit the Times' website, thus reducing web traffic that could translate into advertising and subscription revenue.
The complaint cites several examples when a chatbot served users scant excerpts from Times articles that would otherwise have required a paid subscription to view. OpenAI and Microsoft have placed particular emphasis on using Times journalism to train their AI programs because of the material's perceived credibility and accuracy.
Media organizations have spent the past year examining the legal, financial and journalistic implications of the boom in artificial intelligence. License agreement entered into OpenAI in July and Axel Springer, the German publisher that owns Politico and Business Insider This month. Terms of those deals were not disclosed.
The Times is exploring how to use the new technology. Newspaper Recently hired Editorial director of artificial intelligence initiatives, establishing protocols for the newsroom's use of AI and exploring ways to integrate the technology into the company's journalism.
In one example of how AI systems used material from The Times, the case showed that browsing with Bing, a Microsoft search feature powered by SatGPD, reproduced results almost verbatim from Wirecutter, the Times' product review site. However, Bing's text results were not linked to the Wirecutter article, and they removed the referral links in the text that Wirecutter uses to generate commissions from sales based on its referrals.
“Decreased traffic to Wirecutter articles and, in turn, reduced traffic to affiliate links, results in a loss of revenue for Wirecutter,” the complaint states.
The case also highlights the potential damage to the Times' brand from so-called AI “hallucinations,” a phenomenon in which chatbots insert false information that is mistakenly attributed to a source. The complaint cites several cases of Microsoft's Bing Chat providing false information, which it said came from the Times, including results about the “15 most heart-healthy foods,” 12 of which were not mentioned in the report's article.
“If the Times and other news organizations cannot create and protect their independent press, there will be a vacuum that neither computers nor artificial intelligence can fill,” the complaint says. It adds, “Less journalism will be produced, and society will be at a greater cost.”
The Times has retained the law firms Susman Godfrey and Rothwell, Fick, Ernst & Manbeck as outside counsel on the case. Sussman represented Dominion Voting Systems in a defamation suit against Fox News that resulted in a $787.5 million settlement in April. Susman Also filed A class-action lawsuit proposed last month against Microsoft and OpenAI on behalf of non-fiction authors, books used to train the companies' chatbots, and other copyright holders.
Benjamin Mullin Contributed report.