The New York Times has initiated legal proceedings against tech heavyweights Microsoft and OpenAI, alleging that the companies have improperly utilized copyrighted content from its publications. Filed in the Federal District Court of Manhattan, the lawsuit does not specify the exact amount in damages; however, the media outlet mentions that the defendants may be accountable for “billions of dollars” relating to statutory and actual damages caused by the “unlawful copying and use” of its valuable works.
Content at the Core of the Controversy
The issue at hand pivots around the claim that AI models developed by Microsoft and OpenAI have, without permission, sourced millions of articles from The New York Times. For instance, Microsoft's Bing Chat – now known as Copilot – feature which incorporates OpenAI's ChatGPT model, has been pinpointed for producing outputs strikingly similar to The Times's Wirecutter review site content. Notably, these AI-generated summaries failed to include direct links to the original Wirecutter articles and omitted any financial affiliate links vital for revenue.
Specifically, the suit states that the chatbots, products of the AI training, can regurgitate information that mirrors the newspaper's articles, circumventing the need for a paid subscription to The New York Times' content.
The substantial investment made by the media company in producing journalism is allegedly at risk due to readers possibly settling for the abbreviated content provided by chatbots, subsequently reducing the publication's web traffic and associated revenue streams. This issue not only speaks to copyright infringement but also to the financial impact on news organizations navigating the digital age.
The New York Times reveals that attempts to resolve the copyright infringement allegations amicably initiated in April have not culminated in a compromise. The lack of a satisfactory solution from the discussions has led the renowned media company to seek judicial intervention. As the legal narrative unfolds, Microsoft and OpenAI have yet to publicize their stance on the allegations.
A Growing Trend in Legal Scrutiny
The recent lawsuit by The New York Times accentuates the growing legal scrutiny surrounding the practice of training generative AI models. A group of writers, including major figures like Michael Chabon and David Henry Hwang, have filed a lawsuit against OpenAI. They claim that the company unlawfully accesses their copyrighted works to train its AI model, ChatGPT. Chabon and the group have also brought a similar lawsuit against Meta Inc. for the same reasons.
Earlier in the year, Sarah Silverman, Christopher Golden, and Richard Kadrey accused both OpenAI and Meta of copyright infringement. They claim technology companies obtained their books from illegal sources, such as websites that offer free downloads of pirated books.
In July, a group of leading news publishers also considered suing AI companies over copyright infringement. The publishers allege that the AI firms are infringing on their intellectual property rights and undermining their business model by scraping, summarizing, or rewriting their articles and distributing them on various platforms, such as websites, apps, or social media.