The New York Times is suing OpenAI — alleging it trained ChatGPT off its content

  • The New York Times is suing ChatGPT owner OpenAI and Microsoft in federal court.
  • The newspaper alleges that OpenAI and Microsoft unlawfully used its work to create competing AI products.
  • The lawsuit follows what appears to be breakdowns in talks between the newspaper and the two companies.

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The New York Times has filed a federal lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft, seeking to end the practice of using its stories to train chatbots.

In the suit filed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, the Times said OpenAI and Microsoft are advancing their technology through the “unlawful use of The Times’s work to create artificial intelligence products that compete with it” and “threatens The Times’s ability to provide that service.”

OpenAI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Media organizations have been pummeled by a migration of readers to online platforms. While many publications have carved out a digital space online as well, artificial intelligence technology has threatened to upend numerous industries, including media.

Artificial intelligence companies scrape information available online, including articles published by media organizations, to train generative AI chatbots. The large language models are also trained on a huge trove of other human-written materials, such as instructional manuals and digital books. That helps them build a strong command of language and grammar and answer questions correctly.

Still, they often get many things wrong. In its lawsuit, for example, the Times said OpenAI’s GPT-4 falsely attributed product recommendations to Wirecutter, the paper’s product reviews site, endangering its reputation.

OpenAI and other AI companies, including rival Anthropic, have attracted billions in investments very rapidly since public and business interest in the technology has exploded.

Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI allows it to capitalize on the AI technology made by artificial intelligence companies. The Redmond, Washington, tech giant is also OpenAI’s biggest backer and has invested billions of dollars into the company since the two began their partnership in 2019 with a $1 billion investment. As part of the agreement, Microsoft’s supercomputers help power OpenAI’s AI research, and the tech giant integrates the startup’s technology into its products.

Lawsuits mounting against OpenAI

The paper’s complaint comes as the number of lawsuits against OpenAI alleging copyright infringement is growing. The company has been sued by a number of writers – including comedian Sarah Silverman – who say their books were ingested to train OpenAI’s AI models without their permission. In June, more than 4,000 writers signed a letter to the CEOs of OpenAI, Google, Microsoft, Meta and other AI developers accusing them of exploitative practices in building chatbots that “mimic and regurgitate” their language, style and ideas.

The Times did not list specific damages that it is seeking, but said the legal action “seeks to hold them responsible for the billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages that they owe for the unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.”

In the complaint, the Times said Microsoft and OpenAI “seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investments in its journalism” by using it to build products without payment or permission.

In July, OpenAI and The Associated Press announced a deal for the artificial intelligence company to license AP’s archive of news stories.

The three parties attempted talks

However, The New York Times said it’s never given permission to anyone to use its content for generative AI purposes.

The lawsuit also follows what appears to be breakdowns in talks between the newspaper and the two companies.

The Times said it reached out to Microsoft and OpenAI in April to raise concerns about the use of its intellectual property and reach a resolution on the issue. During the talks, the newspaper said it sought to “ensure it received fair value” for the use of its content, “facilitate the continuation of a healthy news ecosystem, and help develop GenAI technology in a responsible way that benefits society and supports a well-informed public.”

“These negotiations have not led to a resolution,” the lawsuit said.

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