Creators of ChatGPT Under Siege by Litigants

October 18 2023| News| | By Jim Bartlett

Some people call me a tech junkie, and I’ll admit, the moniker fits. Has for decades. Professionally, I’m continually on the lookout for a legitimate application or service that will make my law practice more efficient and effective. When I learned about ChatGPT and related services such as DALL·E last year, I couldn’t wait to try them out. Almost a year later, I find these services to be useful for brainstorming and custom image generation, and I can definitely see the potential in them. However, ChatGPT’s knowledge comes from training on large datasets, and it turns out that some contend that ChatGPT’s creators violated their intellectual property and privacy rights. This has resulted in litigation across the country.

One lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild, George R.R. Martin, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, and 14 other authors against various OpenAI entities centers around allegations of copyright infringement. The plaintiffs claim that OpenAI committed “systematic theft on a mass scale” by using their copyrighted literary works without permission in order to train and develop its text-generating program, ChatGPT. The underlying contention is that OpenAI fed these authors’ books into its “large language models” to develop this program, which they believe constitutes infringement on their copyrights.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that their works were utilized specifically within a dataset known as “Books2,” which was allegedly used to train the GPT-3, GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 models that power ChatGPT. This, according to the authors, was done without seeking their permission or offering compensation for the use of their copyrighted materials. Plaintiff’s complaint seeks class action status to include “All natural persons in the United States who are the sole authors of, and sole legal or beneficial owners of Eligible Copyrights in, one or more Class Works; and all persons in the United States who are the sole legal or beneficial owners of Eligible Copyrights in one or more Class Works held by literary estates,” and requests damages and injunctive relief.

This lawsuit is part of a broader wave of legal actions initiated by writers and other individuals who are growing increasingly concerned about the implications of artificial intelligence on copyright law, the potential for their works to be used without authorization, and the potential for invasion of privacy. A search of public databases reveals that there are about a dozen such suits pending across the country, including several putative class actions.

Are these lawsuits going to spell the end of ChatGPT, generative AI, and similar applications? Put simply, no. Not a chance. This technology, for better or worse, is here to stay. But the litigation may spur OpenAI and other AI creators to implement more or better safeguards to protect intellectual property and privacy rights while state and federal governments work to catch up to this rapidly-expanding new tech genre with applicable laws and regulations. Sounds like the early days of the Internet. In the meantime, be wary of sharing personal or confidential information in connection with an AI prompt.