George R.R. Martin still hasn’t finished his book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, but that doesn’t mean it’s not making news. On Wednesday, Martin, 16 other authors and the Authors Guild filed a lawsuit against OpenAI in the Southern District of New York for alleged copyright infringement of their works of fiction. They say their works have been used to train the AI technology that powers ChatGPT.
There are some big-name authors among the plaintiffs, including Martin, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Scott Turow, Michael Connelly, Elin Hilderbrand and others.
“Without Plaintiffs’ and the proposed class’ copyrighted works, Defendants would have a vastly different commercial product,” Rachel Geman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and the proposed class, said in a statement. “Defendants’ decision to copy authors’ works, done without offering any choices or providing any compensation, threatens the role and livelihood of writers as a whole.”
The statement went on to say that the authors don’t object to the development of generative AI, but to the fact that AI technologies were apparently developed using their books, without permission.
“Defendants could have ‘trained’ their large language models on works in the public domain or paid a reasonable licensing fee to use copyrighted works,” said co-counsel Scott Sholder.
According to the complaint (PDF), the plaintiffs’ books were downloaded from online ebook repositories and copied into GPT 3.5 and GPT 4, which power ChatGPT. The complaint goes on to say that OpenAI, the company behind the ChatGPT technology, “expects to earn many billions” of dollars from the use of the product.
The authors mentioned in the suit are well-known and likely wealthy. But, according to the guild, the median full-time author’s income in 2022 was just barely over $20,000, meaning half of all authors earn less than that.
A representative for OpenAI told CNET in an email that the company wants to work with, not against, creators.
“Creative professionals around the world use ChatGPT as a part of their creative process,” the representative said. “We respect the rights of writers and authors, and believe they should benefit from AI technology. We’re having productive conversations with many creators around the world, including the Authors Guild, and have been working cooperatively to understand and discuss their concerns about AI.”
The authors’ complaint mentions that ChatGPT is already creating books mimicking human authors’ work, pointing out AI-generated books on Amazon, as well as a “recent attempt to generate volumes 6 and 7 of plaintiff George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series A Song of Ice and Fire.”
Actor Stephen Fry, who was the audiobook narrator for the Harry Potter series in the UK, said this week that AI replicated his voice without permission after being fed his narration from the seven Potter books.
“It could therefore have me read anything from a call to storm Parliament to hard porn, all without my knowledge and without my permission,” Fry said.
Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.
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