New York Times sues OpenAI, Microsoft for infringing copyrighted works

The US-based newspaper accuses the companies of using millions of its articles without permission to help train chatbots.

A sign for The New York Times hangs above the entrance to its building in New York. [AP Photo/Mark Lennihan/File]
The New York Times accuses OpenAI and Microsoft of copyright infringement that it says has resulted in damages that could amount to billions of dollars [File: Mark Lennihan/AP]

The New York Times has sued OpenAI and Microsoft over copyright infringement, seeking to end the companies’ practice of using its stories to train chatbots.

The newspaper filed a lawsuit in the United States federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday, alleging the companies’ powerful artificial intelligence (AI) models used millions of its articles for training without permission and saying that copyright infringements at the paper alone could be worth billions.

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”.

Through their AI chatbots, the companies “seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment”, the lawsuit said.

The Times, one of the most respected news organisations in the United States, is seeking damages as well as an order that the companies stop using its content – and destroy data already harvested.

While no sum is specifically requested, the Times alleged that the infringement could have cost “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages”.

Confrontational approach

With the suit, The New York Times chose a more confrontational approach to the sudden rise of AI chatbots, in contrast to other media groups, such as Germany’s Axel Springer or The Associated Press, which have struck content deals with OpenAI.

Microsoft, the world’s second biggest company by market capitalisation, is a major investor in OpenAI and swiftly implemented the powers of AI in its own products after the release of ChatGPT last year.

The AI models that power ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Copilot (formerly Bing) were trained for years on content available on the internet under the assumption that it was fair to be used without need for compensation.

But the lawsuit argued that the unlawful use of the Times’s work to build artificial intelligence products threatened its ability to provide quality journalism.

“These tools were built with and continue to use independent journalism and content that is only available because we and our peers reported, edited and fact-checked it at high cost and with considerable expertise,” a spokesperson for the Times said.

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.

The lawsuit said that content generated by ChatGPT and Copilot closely mimicked New York Times style and the paper’s content was given a privileged status in perfecting the chatbot technology.

It also said content that proved to be false was sourced incorrectly to The New York Times.

Wave of lawsuits

The newspaper joins a growing list of individuals and publishers trying to stop AI giants from using copyrighted material.

Last year, Game of Thrones author George RR Martin and other bestselling fiction writers filed a class-action lawsuit against OpenAI, accusing the startup of violating their copyrights to fuel ChatGPT.

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.

Universal and other music publishers have sued artificial intelligence company Anthropic in a US court for using copyrighted lyrics to train its AI systems and generate answers to user queries.

US photo distributor Getty Images has accused Stability AI of profiting from its pictures and those of its partners to make visual AI that creates original images on simple demand.

With lawsuits piling up, Microsoft and Google have announced they would provide legal protection for customers sued for copyright infringement over content generated by their AI.

This month, European Union policymakers agreed on landmark legislation to regulate AI, which requires tech companies doing business in the EU to disclose data used to train AI systems and carry out testing of products – especially those used in high-risk applications, such as self-driving vehicles and healthcare.

In October, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order focused on AI’s impact on national security and discrimination while China has rolled out regulations requiring AI to reflect “socialist core values”.

Source: News Agencies