Authors including Margaret Atwood, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Philip Pullman have signed a petition calling for artificial intelligence companies to stop using the writers’ work without consent or credit.
The open letter, created by the Authors Guild, the largest professional organization for writers in the United States, is addressed to the CEOs of OpenAI, Alphabet, Meta, Stability AI, and IBM. He presents these generative AI leaders with three lawsuits, requesting that these companies: “Get permission to use our copyrighted material”; “Compensate writers fairly for past and current use of our works,” and “Compensate writers fairly for use of our works in AI production, whether or not the outputs break the law. current”.
Maya Shanbhag Lang, President of the Authors Guild, said: “The output of AI will always be derivative in nature. AI regurgitates what it ingests, which is the work of human writers. It is only fair that the authors are compensated for having ‘fed’ the AI and continue to report its evolution.”
National Book Award-winning novelist Jonathan Franzen, My Sister’s Keeper author Jodi Picoult, and nonfiction author and journalist Michael Pollan are among the nearly 8,000 signatories to the letter.
“The Authors Guild is taking an important step to advance the rights of all Americans whose data, words and images are being exploited, for enormous profits, without their consent,” Franzen said. “In other words, almost all Americans over the age of six.”
The median writing-related income in 2022 for full-time writers in the US was just $23,330, according to the most recent earnings survey from the Authors Guild. “The advent of artificial intelligence technology further exacerbates these challenges and will make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for writers, particularly those from underrepresented communities, to make a living at the craft that most spent years, if not decades, perfecting,” read a statement from the Authors Guild. “When writers have to leave their profession, it is a serious problem for all of us, not just for writers, because far fewer important books are written and published; and a free and democratic culture depends on a healthy and diverse ecosystem in which all opinions and voices are heard and ideas are exchanged.
This petition is the latest in a series of steps taken by literary figures to combat the growing use of AI in the book industry. Earlier this month, two North American authors, Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay, filed a lawsuit against OpenAI, alleging that the organization violated copyright law.
OpenAI is the company behind the ChatGPT tool, a chatbot that “trains” itself by copying large stretches of text and extracting information from it. The lawsuit filed on behalf of Awad and Tremblay argued that “ChatGPT generates summaries of plaintiffs’ copyrighted works, something that is only possible if ChatGPT was trained on plaintiffs’ copyrighted works.”
This line of argument could be hard to prove, as ChatGPT might work “exactly the same” if you hadn’t ingested the books, Andrés Guadamuz, a lecturer in intellectual property law at the University of Sussex, told The Guardian at the time. This is because you may have been trained on non-copyrighted information, such as internet users discussing the books.
The UK’s leading writing industry body, the Society of Authors (SoA), has backed both the legal action taken by Awad and Tremblay and this new petition from the Authors’ Union. Nicola Solomon, SoA’s executive director, said she and her colleagues “fully support” the open letter. “The principles of consent, credit and compensation are the foundation of our intellectual property regime and a fundamental part of each author’s ability to protect and earn a living from their work.”
But influencing AI developers is “only part of the challenge here,” he added. “The race to build the next generation of systems is driven primarily by the profit motives of large corporations. It is opaque, unrestricted and unregulated, while the ethical ramifications of AI systems are complex and cry out for scrutiny.”
Solomon said the SoA is “working full steam ahead on this, advising members and working closely with other creator unions (through the Creators’ Rights Alliance) and the British Copyright Council, as well as making sure we’re part of discussions with industry, policy makers and tech companies to try to identify common ground and put in place safeguards, regulations and compensation.”
While the SoA currently has no firm plans to publish its own open letter, it’s something the team has discussed. For the time being, however, his focus is on continuing to “push in line with the recent House of Lords report, which urged the government, in no uncertain terms, to protect IP and better fund and support the creative industries.” Solomon said. .
In June, the SoA published a guide for authors on how they can protect themselves and their work from being exploited by AI. In the same month, the UK Publishers Association also announced that it was creating a task force to support the industry amid AI developments.
This petition is not the first time the Authors Guild has criticized technology companies. In 2005, the writers’ organization filed a copyright infringement case against Google, alleging that the search engine’s scanning of millions of books “was a simple and blatant violation of copyright law.” In 2016, the longstanding dispute came to an end when the US Supreme Court denied the Guild the right to appeal the ruling that Google’s scanning of books constituted “fair use” and that ” Google Books provides significant public benefits.”