Franzen, Grisham and Other Prominent Authors Sue OpenAI

The suit, filed by the Authors Guild, accuses the A.I. company of violating the rights of authors to copyright, claiming they used their works to teach their ChatGPT chatbot.

Jodi Picoult, left, and John Grisham are among the best-selling writers who joined the class-action suit.Credit…Kieran Kesner for The New York Times, Donald Johnson for The New York Times

A number of famous novelists, like John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen and Elin Hilderbrand, are stepping up to join the legal fight against OpenAI regarding its chatbot technology as concerns about the impact of artificial intelligence into creative industries are growing.

A dozen or so authors have filed a lawsuit against OpenAI on Tuesday, claiming the company, which is supported by billions of dollars of investment from Microsoft as well as Microsoft, of infringing their copyrights through the use of their works to develop its wildly well-known ChatGPT chatbot. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction together with Authors Guild, said that Chatbots created by OpenAI now produce “derivative works” that can be a re-creation of and a summary of the books of authors and could hurt the sales of the work of authors, and that the authors were not paid nor were they notified by the company.

“The success and profitability of OpenAI are predicated on mass copyright infringement without a word of permission from or a nickel of compensation to copyright owners,” the complaint claimed.

The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York stated that even though OpenAI does not make public declarations about what works it employs to build its models, it admits to using copied material. The complaint further stated that the OpenAI’s ChatGPT can create a summary of books that contain information that is not found in reviews or anywhere else online. This suggests that the core application was fed the entire book.

Douglas Preston, a novelist who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, admitted that he was stunned when he contacted ChatGPT to provide details about minor characters from his books, and it returned details that weren’t included in the reviews or Wikipedia entries for the novels.

“That’s when I looked at this and said, ‘My God, ChatGPT has read my books, how many of my books has it read?'” the author stated. “It knew everything, and that’s when I got a bad feeling.”

A representative of OpenAI did not respond immediately to a question for comments.

Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT on November 1, publishers, authors as well as retailers are trying to reign in the growing and disruptive growth of A.I. in the field. In the past, there has been an increase in A.I.-generated books available on Amazon, such as guides to travel and the foraging of fungi and plants, which led authorities from the New York Mycological Society to warn users to stay clear of A.I.-generated guides.

Amazon has made steps to track and limit the flow of A.I.-generated books. In March, the company released the new rules for self-published writers, they must disclose if they have utilized A.I. to write their texts. It also capped the number of titles that users are able to upload to its self-publishing service every day to three. Amazon is currently not revealing the authors of its books who are made by A.I. for its clients, however it might be able to do so in the near future, as per an Amazon spokesperson.

A number of other lawsuits were brought in recent months from writers challenging OpenAI and Meta, which is the parent company behind Facebook as well as Instagram. In the month of March, Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman, and Matthew Klam were among a group of writers who filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and Meta as well as Meta, which also created A.I. technology, for copyright infringement.

Copyright questions surrounding A.I. are not resolved, and experts are split on whether claims of authors of infringement are valid in the courts. Some say that when an A.I. program is ingesting copied works to train its users, but then creates original works that are significantly different, then that is fair usage. Some, however, believe that the argument of the authors will prevail.

“They’ve scraped all this content and put it into their databases without asking permission — that seems like a huge grab of content,” said Edward Klaris, a lawyer who is a specialist in media and intellectual property law. “I think courts are going to say that copying into the database is an infringement in itself.”

Mary Bly, who publishes romance novels that are historical with the title Eloisa James, has said that she was a part of the Authors Guild suit because she was worried that if writers fail to define boundaries for their work, tech companies will continue to plunder and copy them.

“This lawsuit is important because it establishes a line in the sand,” she declared. “If you plan to train something in the future using my book, you have to get them licensed. You shouldn’t be able to take them as is.”

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