If you listen to the hype from technology companies, artificial intelligence, or AI, promises to revolutionize our lives, making many tasks much easier. But many workers fear this could mean the destruction of their jobs, their careers or even entire industries.
And there’s another potential problem with AI: Much of it was built on top of copyrighted works without permission.
A number of lawsuits in recent months have alleged that tech companies violated copyright law when they used protected works to train their AI apps.
Several of these cases involve book authors who say that the tech companies used their works without permission when teaching their AI apps to write like human beings. Some of the authors include very well-known figures from various genres, including comedian Sarah Silverman and George R.R. Martin, the author of the ‘Game of Thrones” fantasy novels.
AI apps such as ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bard can churn out text that resembles human writing. Their designers intend for the quality of the work to improve over time as the AI apps respond to feedback from users. But before they released them to the public, the designers had to get the apps started on something. They did this by uploading the text of copyrighted books into the apps. The AI apps then based their own works on the language they encountered in the books.
In these lawsuits, the book authors claim that this method means that texts generated by the AI apps are “derivative works” under copyright law. The Copyright Act defines “derivative works” as any works based on or derivative of a protected work.. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to derivative works.
Traditionally, derivative works based on books include new editions, translations into other languages, sequels, prequels and so on. But the AI lawsuits test the limits of the definition.
If an AI app churns out text based on what it encountered in a “Game of Thrones” novel, but the text itself doesn’t actually reuse any copyrighted phrases from the novel, has the AI created a derivative work, or is this more like a case where a human writer reads a “Game of Thrones” before writing their own, original story?