The Times sues OpenAI and Microsoft over use of AI's copyrighted works
The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft on Wednesday for copyright infringement, opening a new front in an increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.
The Times is the first major US media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPIT and other popular AI platforms, over copyright issues involving their written works. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, argues that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with news outlets as sources of reliable information.
The lawsuit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times's uniquely valuable works.” It also calls on the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.
The lawsuit could test the emerging legal framework of generative AI technologies – the so-called text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets – and carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is one of the few outlets that has created a successful business model from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been affected by the migration of readers to the Internet.
At the same time, OpenAI and other AI tech companies — which use a 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 by investors at more than $80 billion. Microsoft has pledged $13 billion for OpenAI and has incorporated the company's technology into its Bing search engine.
“Defendants sought to take advantage of The Times’s substantial investment in journalism,” the complaint says. The complaint accuses OpenAI and Microsoft of “using The Times content without payment to create products that replace The Times and drive audiences away from it.”
The defendants have not had an opportunity to respond in court.
Given the technology's ability to mimic natural language and generate sophisticated written responses to virtually any prompt, concerns about noncompensable use of intellectual property by AI systems have grown through the creative industries.
Actress Sarah Silverman joined a pair of lawsuits in July, accusing Meta and OpenAI of “swallowing” her memoir as a training text for AI programs. When it was discovered that the AI system had absorbed thousands of books, novelists expressed concern, leading to a lawsuit by authors including Jonathan Franzen and John Grisham. Getty Images, a photography syndicate, sued an AI company that generates images based on written prompts, saying the platform relies on unauthorized use of Getty's copyrighted visual content.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, apparently comes after an impasse in negotiations involving The Times, Microsoft and OpenAI. In its complaint, The Times said it had contacted Microsoft and OpenAI in April to raise concerns about the use of its intellectual property and to explore an “amicable solution” – possibly including a commercial agreement and generic AI products. “Technical guardrails” were involved – but those talks reached no conclusion.
In addition to seeking to protect intellectual property, The Times' lawsuit casts ChatGPT and other AI systems as potential competitors in the news business. When chatbots are asked about current events or other newsworthy topics, they can generate answers that draw on past journalism from The Times. The newspaper expresses concern that readers will be satisfied with the chatbot's response and refuse to visit The Times' website, thus reducing web traffic that could be translated into advertising and subscription revenue.
The complaint cites several instances when a chatbot provided users with almost verbatim excerpts of Times articles that would otherwise have required a paid subscription to view. It claims that OpenAI and Microsoft placed special emphasis on the use of Times journalism in the training of their AI programs because of the perceived credibility and accuracy of the content.
Media organizations have spent the last year examining the legal, financial and journalistic implications of the boom in generative AI. Some news outlets have already reached agreements for the use of their journalism: The Associated Press made a licensing deal with OpenAI in July, and German publisher Axel Springer, owner of Politico and Business Insider, did the same this month, Terms of those deals were not disclosed.
The Times is also exploring how to use new technology. Newspaper recently appointed An editorial director of the Artificial Intelligence initiative established protocols for the use of AI in the newsroom and examined ways to integrate the technology into the company's journalism.
In an example of how AI systems use content from The Times, the suit revealed that Browse with Bing, a Microsoft search feature powered by ChatGPT, reproduced results almost verbatim from The Times' product review site Wirecutter. . However, Bing's text results did not link to the Wirecutter article, and they removed the referral link in the text, which Wirecutter uses to generate commissions from sales based on its recommendations.
“Wirecutter suffered a loss of revenue due to the reduction in traffic to Wirecutter articles and the resulting reduction in traffic to affiliate links,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also highlights the potential damage caused to the Times' brand through so-called AI “hallucinations,” a phenomenon in which chatbots insert false information that is later falsely attributed to a source. The complaint cites several instances in which Microsoft's Bing Chat provided inaccurate information that it said came from the Times, including results for the “15 Most Heart-Healthy Foods”, Of which 12 were not mentioned in a newspaper article.
“If The Times and other news organizations cannot produce and protect their independent journalism, there will be a void that no computer or artificial intelligence can fill,” the complaint said. It further states, “Less journalism will be produced, and the cost to society will be much higher.”
The Times has retained law firm Sussman Godfrey as its lead outside counsel for the litigation. Suzman represented Dominion Voting Systems in a defamation case against Fox News, which resulted in a $787.5 million settlement in April. susman also filed A class action suit proposed last month against Microsoft and OpenAI on behalf of non-fiction authors whose books and other copyrighted materials were used to train the companies' chatbots.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.