8 Major Newspapers Join Copyright Battle Against OpenAI, Microsoft

The New York Times has filed its own lawsuit against the AI tech giants.
8 Major Newspapers Join Copyright Battle Against OpenAI, Microsoft
The ChatGPT logo at an office in Washington on March 15, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

OpenAI and its backer, Microsoft, have been hit by yet another copyright lawsuit from the journalism industry, this time with eight prominent regional newspapers accusing the ChatGPT developer of illegally using their content to train its artificial intelligence (AI) language models.

In a complaint filed on April 30 in New York, the newspaper publishers raised copyright claims against ChatGPT and Copilot, an AI tool that debuted in February 2023 for users of the Windows operating system, the Bing search engine, and other Microsoft products.

According to the complaint, OpenAI and Microsoft have been “purloining millions of the publishers’ copyrighted articles without permission and without payment” to fuel their generative AI software that generated billions of dollars in revenue.

To build and operate generative AI products, the newspapers argued, OpenAI and Microsoft hired programmers and engineers, utilized computers and specialized chips, consumed electricity, and built expensive and highly sophisticated facilities. Although the tech giants paid for all those, they didn’t want to pay for the news content fed to the AI.

“Microsoft and OpenAI simply take the work product of reporters, journalists, editorial writers, editors and others who contribute to the work of local newspapers—all without any regard for the efforts, much less the legal rights, of those who create and publish the news on which local communities rely,” the complaint reads.

The newspapers cited examples of chatbots being prompted to offer entire news articles, in some cases verbatim from their paywalled website. In one example, ChatGPT gave the user word-for-word the first excerpt in the Chicago Tribune’s 2017 article “What to Do With a Broken Illinois: Dissolve the Land of Lincoln” when the prompt asked for a summary of the piece “followed by the actual text.”

“This issue is not just a business problem for a handful of newspapers or the newspaper industry at large,” the newspapers argued. “It is a critical issue for civic life in America.”

The lawsuit was brought by eight regional daily newspapers owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital. They are the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, San Jose Mercury News, Denver Post, Orange County Register, and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The publishers are represented by Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, a Washington-based law firm that’s also representing The New York Times in its separate copyright infringement lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft.

The New York Times filed the lawsuit in December 2023, arguing that ChatGPT and Copilot are competing with the same newspaper they are trained on and diverting internet traffic away from the newspaper’s online edition.

In its complaint, The New York Times provided evidence of the chatbots reproducing near-verbatim excerpts of its articles. Those included a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2019 investigative series on the taxi industry and food critic Pete Wells’s 2012 review of TV superchef Guy Fieri’s now-closed Times Square restaurant.

The New York Times also alleged that OpenAI’s GPT-4 falsely attributed product recommendations to Wirecutter, the paper’s product reviews site.

“In AI parlance, this is called a ‘hallucination,’” The New York Times stated. “In plain English, it’s misinformation.”

Microsoft declined to comment. OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment.

A leading player in the global AI boom, OpenAI has evolved from a research-focused startup into a company valued at almost $30 billion.

In 2019, OpenAI reorganized itself to become OpenAI LP, a “capped-profit” entity. This means that profits for investors in this venture are capped at 100 times their original investment and that the amount in excess will be passed on to an overarching nonprofit company, OpenAI Inc., to spend as it sees fit.

“We want to increase our ability to raise capital while still serving our mission, and no pre-existing legal structure we know of strikes the right balance,” the company stated.

Bill Pan is an Epoch Times reporter covering education issues and New York news.
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