“Happy New Year, Trish! I read that OpenAI was sued recently by the New York Times? What is that all about?”
Hi there, and Happy New Year! I hope you and yours enjoyed a wonderful holiday season that you’re having a great start to 2024. Of course, with a new year comes new #AskTrish content (hurrah!), so without further ado, let’s get into our first Ask Trish post of 2024.
(By the way…you’ll notice that this year, I’m debuting a new style for these posts: more or less the same structure, but a bit more concise and punchy, so they really are blog posts, and not long-winded articles. Let me know if you like this style more in the comments section of each week’s video! Thanks a ton in advance for your feedback.)
Thanks so much to this week’s question-er for the fantastic question. Yes, OpenAI and technology giant Microsoft was sued by The New York Times (NYT), and yes, it is a fascinating story, with a lot of deeply important implications for the AI space. But because this happened over holidays, this story was buried/a lot of folks missed it. All the more reason that we dive into what, exactly, happened and what it all means. In this week’s post, I’ll offer y’all a look at 1) why the NYT is taking on OpenAI and 2) how this case has the potential to significantly disrupt the AI world. (I’ll then leave it to you to decide the merits of the NYT’s case.)
Sound like a plan? Off we go!
First off, as this week’s question-er so eloquently put it, what is this lawsuit all about? What the heck is The New York Times so mad about? Let’s start with the basics. The NYT sued OpenAI and Microsoft (which holds a large stake in OpenAI) for copyright infringement. Put very simply, when someone alleges copyright infringement, they’re alleging that some party stole or used some work of theirs without permission, for their own purposes. (Copyright, of course, is a sort of intellectual property that gives the creator of a work the exclusive legal right to distribute that work as they please.) In this case, The New York Times is alleging that OpenAI used millions of New York Times articles (copyrighted by the Times) to train its AI chatbots, e.g., ChatGPT, chatbots that now compete with the NYT as a source of information. That is, per the NYT, when asking ChatGPT about current events, often, the chatbot will generate answers that are simply quotes from NYT articles. Of course, this means that folks like you and me can get access to NYT content without paying for it. The NYT is “mad,” then, both because OpenAI purportedly used the NYT’s copyrighted works and because it did so to produce a product that, they claim, directly harms the NYT’s online journalism business. In its lawsuit, the NYT doesn’t specify a monetary demand (though it does reference “billions of dollars in damages”), but it does ask for companies like OpenAI to destroy any chatbots that use copyrighted material. (#Yikes.) Apparently, this all comes after efforts by both parties to amicably work out a resolution, like a commercial agreement (where, for instance, OpenAI may have paid the NYT for its use of their materials)…an effort that has since clearly failed.
Okay, so now we know what’s going on. Let’s get into the other part of this, then…why does this matter? Well, first off, it’s important to note that this is not the only lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against OpenAI…this is just the first lawsuit by a major American news organization. That, in and of itself, is, of course, significant. But perhaps the larger reason that this lawsuit – and the others like it – matter is because of what they represent: an extremely important, unresolved issue in the AI world – in a world in which AI “absorbs” everything out there, what does it mean to “own” something? Can creators actually do that anymore? This is a concern that’s been voiced by many artists, actors, writers, etc. for many months now, with no clear answer. Of course, the boundaries of copyright are always tested whenever a new technology emerges – that was certainly the case for the internet (just think of illegally downloading music or movies!) – but AI seems to test copyright in ways it has never been tested before. With that said, the outcome of these lawsuits have the potential to dramatically reshape the AI world. If the NYT’s lawsuit succeeds (and copyright wins, so to speak), no doubt AI companies like OpenAI will have a much more difficult time building and training their chatbots. So when will we find out what will happen? Not for a while, most likely…most legal experts say a Supreme Court decision (like a long while away) is inevitable. We’ll just have to stay tuned for that one.
Even if the AI world is poised for potential change, you know what’s not? My end-of-post plug to y’all to please share your thoughts and questions about the internet with me here. I welcome any and all concerns or musings – remember, nothing is “off limits” or “too stupid” of question. (I promise, they are definitely folks wondering about the same things as you.) Thank you in advance for your contributions – I look forward to hearing from you.
Have a great week,