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Authors sue over AI’s misuse of their work

Books on a Prague library shelf. (Erin Timur/YJI)

SEATTLE – Authors are the among the newest groups of creatives to join the revolt against the companies behind artificial intelligence. 

Two recent lawsuits, one of which notably includes comedian and writer Sarah Silverman as a plaintiff, alleged that OpenAI and Facebook’s Meta used illegal online copies of various books to train their respective generative AI models.

The authors’ works were said to come from websites known as “shadow libraries,” which host large collections of pirated, copyrighted material.

Written material from the books was then used in Meta’s AI language model LLaMA and OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT without permission or compensation, according to the case complaint.

Since the filing of the case in early July, the authors have garnered substantial support from other writers and the general public. In an open letter to a group of tech industry executives – including the CEOs of Microsoft, IBM, and Google’s Alphabet – the Author’s Guild and thousands of additional writers expressed concerns over the use of copyrighted material and the future of their already under-compensated occupation.

“The introduction of AI threatens to tip the scale to make it even more difficult, if not impossible, for writers – especially young writers and voices from under-represented communities – to earn a living from their profession,” the letter read.

While the spotlight has only recently shifted towards authors and the publishing industry, worries about the lack of restrictions and legislative safeguards surrounding AI are not new. 

Since the public rollout of ChatGPT in the fall of 2022, which initiated what many called an “AI arms race,” growing sentiments urged companies to slow or halt the development of their generative AI models until more thorough research about potential ramifications could be completed.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans cite the loss of human jobs, lack of digital privacy, misuse, and overreliance as the largest potential consequences of widespread AI – all factors that the public want AI companies to take into more serious consideration.

Even the World Health Organization, which issued statements about AI in May and June, is “[concerned] that caution that would normally be exercised for any new technology is not being exercised consistently” with AI.

Preliminary regulations have been put in place in response to these fears, although providing varying levels of reassurance.

In October of 2022, the White House issued a “blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” identifying key principles to help guide the creation and implementation of new AI systems. Efforts have also been made by the national government to expedite AI research and partner with a number of involved companies.

But concrete restrictions – especially those concerning the issues of copyrighted material and fair use – have yet to be enacted.

While the future remains uncertain for both AI and the authors calling for its regulation, there is a growing consensus that responsibility must be at the forefront of technological development.

Jasmine Zhen is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this story.

Erin Timur is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She took the photo at the top.

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