George R.R. Martin, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen, and George Saunders are among the authors who have filed a class action lawsuit against the company behind ChatGPT, accusing them of “feeding” and “training” the AI software on the authors’ copyrighted works.
The Authors Guild — which also represents bestselling writers like Michael Connolly, Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci, and others — filed the lawsuit against OpenAI Wednesday in a New York district court.
“Plaintiffs, authors of a broad array of works of fiction, bring this action under the Copyright Act seeking redress for Defendants’ flagrant and harmful infringements of Plaintiffs’ registered copyrights in written works of fiction,” the class action lawsuit obtained by Rolling Stone states.
“Defendants copied Plaintiffs’ works wholesale, without permission or consideration. Defendants then fed Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works into their ‘large language models’ or ‘LLMs,’ algorithms designed to output human-seeming text responses to users’ prompts and queries. These algorithms are at the heart of Defendants’ massive commercial enterprise. And at the heart of these algorithms is systematic theft on a mass scale.”
The lawsuit claims that pirated copies of the authors’ book were “fed” without permission “into the fabric of GPT 3.5 and GPT 4 which power ChatGPT and thousands of applications and enterprise uses—from which OpenAI expects to earn many billions,” the Authors Guild said.
“Defendants could have ‘trained’ their LLMs on works in the public domain. They could have paid a reasonable licensing fee to use copyrighted works,” the lawsuit states. “What Defendants could not do was evade the Copyright Act altogether to power their lucrative commercial endeavor, taking whatever datasets of relatively recent books they could get their hands on without authorization. There is nothing fair about this. Defendants’ unauthorized use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works thus presents a straightforward infringement case applying well-established law to well-recognized copyright harms.”
In an example of how ChatGPT infringes on the authors’ works, the Authors Guild pointed out how fans of Martin’s Game of Thrones have used the software to create their own AI versions of the author’s long-awaited The Winds of Winter, using the information from his previous novels that was “fed” without permission into the GPT. In another example, author Jane Friedman found books under her byline that she did not write being sold on Amazon; the books were actually penned by AI technology after being trained on Friedman’s work.
While safeguards have been put in place by OpenAI to prevent ChatGPT from regurgitating entire passages and/or books from the authors, it can still produce lengthy and detailed synopses of the works, which hurts the books commercially.
Maya Shanbhag Lang, president of the Authors Guild and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement, “The Authors Guild serves to protect the literary landscape and the profession of writing. This case is merely the beginning of our battle to defend authors from theft by OpenAI and other generative AI. As the oldest and largest organization of writers, with nearly 14,000 members, the Guild is uniquely positioned to represent authors’ rights. Our membership is diverse and passionate. Our staff, which includes a formidable legal team, has expertise in copyright law. This is all to say: We do not bring this suit lightly. We are here to fight.”
Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger added, “It is imperative that we stop this theft in its tracks or we will destroy our incredible literary culture, which feeds many other creative industries in the U.S. Great books are generally written by those who spend their careers and, indeed, their lives, learning and perfecting their crafts. To preserve our literature, authors must have the ability to control if and how their works are used by generative AI. The various GPT models and other current generative AI machines can only generate material that is derivative of what came before it. They copy sentence structure, voice, storytelling, and context from books and other ingested texts. The outputs are mere remixes without the addition of any human voice. Regurgitated culture is no replacement for human art.”
Franzen, the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, said in a statement, “Generative AI is a vast new field for Silicon Valley’s longstanding exploitation of content providers. Authors should have the right to decide when their works are used to ‘train’ AI. If they choose to opt in, they should be appropriately compensated.”