UNITED STATES NEWS

Sarah Silverman and novelists sue ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for ingesting their books

Jul 12, 2023, 11:56 AM | Updated: 3:24 pm

Ask ChatGPT about comedian Sarah Silverman’s memoir “The Bedwetter” and the artificial intelligence chatbot can come up with a detailed synopsis of every part of the book.

Does that mean it effectively “read” and memorized a pirated copy? Or it scraped so many customer reviews and online chatter about the bestseller or the musical it inspired that it passes for an expert?

The U.S. courts may now help sort that out after Silverman sued ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for copyright infringement this week, joining a growing number of writers who say they unwittingly built the foundation for Silicon Valley’s red-hot AI boom.

Silverman’s lawsuit says she never gave permission for OpenAI to ingest the digital version of her 2010 book to train its AI models, and it was likely stolen from a “shadow library” of pirated works. It says the memoir was copied “without consent, without credit, and without compensation.”

It’s one of a mounting number of cases that could crack open the secrecy of OpenAI and its rivals about the valuable data used to train increasingly widely used and music. And it raises questions about the ethical and legal bedrock of tools that the McKinsey Global Institute projects will add the equivalent of $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion to the global economy.

“This is an open, dirty secret of the whole machine learning industry,” said Matthew Butterick, one of the lawyers representing Silverman and other authors in seeking a class-action case. “They love book data and they get it from these illicit sites. We’re kind of blowing the whistle on that whole practice.”

OpenAI declined to comment on the allegations. Another lawsuit from Silverman makes similar claims about an AI model built by Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta, which also declined comment.

It may be a tough case for writers to win, especially after Google’s success in beating back legal challenges to its online book library. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 let stand lower court rulings that rejected authors’ claim that Google’s digitizing of millions of books and showing small portions of them to the public amount to “copyright infringement on an epic scale.”

“I think what OpenAI has done with books is awfully close to what Google was allowed to do with its Google Books project and so will be legal,” said Deven Desai, associate professor of law and ethics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While only a handful have sued, including Silverman and bestselling novelists Mona Awad artist communities.

Other prominent authors — among them Nora Roberts, Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich and Jodi Picoult — signed a letter late last month 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.

“Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays and poetry provide the ‘food’ for AI systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill,” said the open letter organized by the Authors Guild and signed by more than 4,000 writers. “You’re spending billions of dollars to develop AI technology. It is only fair that you compensate us for using our writings, without which AI would be banal and extremely limited.”

The AI systems behind popular products such as ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot are known as large language models that have “learned” by analyzing and picking up patterns from a wide body of ingested text. They’ve awed the public with their strong command of human language, though they’re also known for a tendency to spout falsehoods.

While the models have also been trained on news articles and social media feeds, books are particularly valuable, as OpenAI acknowledged in a 2018 paper cited in Silverman’s lawsuit.

The earliest version of OpenAI’s large language model, known as GPT-1, relied on a dataset compiled by university researchers called the Toronto Book Corpus that included thousands of unpublished books, some in the adventure, fantasy and romance genres.

“Crucially, it contains long stretches of contiguous text, which allows the generative model to learn to condition on long-range information,” OpenAI researchers said at the time. Other tech companies such as Google and Amazon relied on the same data, which is no longer available in its original form.

But since then, OpenAI and other top AI developers have grown more secretive about their sources of data, even as they have ingested larger troves of written works. Butterick said circumstantial evidence points to the use of so-called shadow libraries of pirated content that held the works of Silverman and other plaintiffs.

“It’s important for their models because books are the best source of long-form, well-edited, coherent writing,” he said. “You basically can’t have a high-quality language model unless you have books in your training data.”

It could be weeks or months before a formal response is due from OpenAI. But once the case proceeds, tech executives could have to testify under oath about the sources of books they downloaded.

“As far as we know, the other side hasn’t denied it,” said Joseph Saveri, another of Silverman’s lawyers. “They don’t have an alternative explanation for this.”

Saveri said authors aren’t necessarily asking tech companies to throw away their algorithms and training data and start over — though the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has set a precedent for forcing companies to destroy ill-gotten AI data. But some way of compensating writers is needed, he said.

United States News

Associated Press

Arrests follow barricades and encampments as college students nationwide protest Gaza war

NEW YORK (AP) — Standoffs between pro-Palestinian student protesters and universities grew increasingly tense on both coasts Wednesday as hundreds encamped at Columbia University faced a deadline from the administration to clear out while dozens remained barricaded inside two buildings on a Northern California college campus. Both are part of intensifying demonstrations over schools cut […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

What to listen for during Supreme Court arguments on Donald Trump and presidential immunity

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday over whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. It’s a historic day for the court, with the justices having an opportunity to decide once and for all whether former presidents […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

USPS commits to rerouting Reno-area mail despite bipartisan pushback and mail ballot concerns

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The USPS announced on Tuesday it will follow through with its plan to reroute Reno-area mail processing to Sacramento, a move that drew bipartisan ire from Nevada lawmakers while raising questions about the rate at which mail ballots can be processed in a populous part of a crucial swing state. Postmaster […]

8 hours ago

The American and Ukrainian flags wave in the wind outside of the Capitol on Tuesday, April 23, 2024...

Associated Press

Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote

The Senate has passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending the legislation to Biden after months of delays.

8 hours ago

The logo for the Tesla Supercharger station is seen in Buford, Ga, April 22, 2021. Faced with falli...

Associated Press

Tesla 1Q profit falls 55%, but stock jumps as company moves to speed production of cheaper vehicles

Tesla’s stock price surged in after-hours trading Tuesday as the company said it would prioritize production of more affordable vehicles.

9 hours ago

Pages from the United Healthcare website are displayed on a computer screen, Feb. 29, 2024, in New ...

Associated Press

UnitedHealth says wide swath of patient files may have been taken in Change cyberattack

The company said after markets closed that it sees no signs that doctor charts or full medical histories were released after the attack.

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Sarah Silverman and novelists sue ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for ingesting their books