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OpenAI claims copyright lawsuit from The New York Times is ‘without merit’

The logo of US artificial intelligence company OpenAI is pictured during a talk by its co-founders at the campus of Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on June 5, 2023.Jack Guez/AFP/Getty ImagesNew York

OpenAI on Monday pushed back against a lawsuit filed last month by The New York Times alleging that the artificial intelligence juggernaut violated copyright law by using Times journalism to train its systems, calling the suit “without merit.”

“The New York Times is not telling the full story,” OpenAI said in a blog post about the lawsuit, adding that its “goals are to support a healthy news ecosystem, be a good partner, and create mutually beneficial opportunities.”

The New York Times in December sued OpenAI, as well as its business partner and investor Microsoft, for copyright infringement.

The Times alleged that the two companies’ artificial intelligence technologies illegally copied millions of Times articles to train ChatGPT and other services to provide people with instant access to information — technology that now competes with the Times. (Microsoft has not commented on the lawsuit.)

The complaint is one of a string of recent lawsuits seeking to limit the alleged scraping of wide swaths of content from across the internet, without compensation, to train so-called large language AI models.

OpenAI in its Monday statement reiterated its claim that training AI systems with “publicly available internet materials” is covered by “fair use” protections under copyright law. “We view this principle as fair to creators, necessary for innovators, and critical for US competitiveness,” the company said.

The New York Times in its complaint pushed back on OpenAi’s fair use argument, saying that ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot provide a similar service as the newspaper.

“There is nothing ‘transformative’ about using The Times’s content without payment to create products that substitute for The Times and steal audiences away from it,” the Times said in its complaint. “Because the outputs of Defendants’ GenAI models compete with and closely mimic the inputs used to train them, copying Times works for that purpose is not fair use.”

It’s not clear whether OpenAI has yet formally responded to the lawsuit in court; no new filings were publicly available on the docket as of Monday afternoon.

A lawyer for The New York Times said in a statement Monday that OpenAI’s blog post “concedes that OpenAI used The Times’s work, along with the work of many others, to build ChatGPT.”

“As The Times’s complaint states, ‘Through Microsoft’s Bing Chat … and OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Defendants seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment,’” Susman Godfrey partner Ian Crosby, lead counsel for The New York Times, said in the statement. “That’s not fair use by any measure.”

In its complaint, The New York Times alleges that because the AI tools have been trained on its content, they sometimes provide verbatim copies of sections of Times reports.

OpenAI said in its response Monday that so-called “regurgitation” is a “rare bug,” the occurrence of which it is working to reduce.

“We also expect our users to act responsibly; intentionally manipulating our models to regurgitate is not an appropriate use of our technology and is against our terms of use,” OpenAI said.

The tech company also accused The Times of “intentionally” manipulating ChatGPT or cherry-picking the copycat examples it detailed in its complaint.

OpenAI also pointed to licensing deals it has reached with other publishers, including Axel Springer and the Associated Press, to compensate them for the use of their content to train its models, as well as the ability for outlets to “opt out” of having their sites scraped by its tools, which The New York Times did in August.

The New York Times alleged in its complaint that it spent months negotiating with OpenAI and Microsoft to receive fair compensation and set terms of a similar licensing agreement. But it claimed the companies had been unable to reach a fair resolution.

OpenAI said Monday that those discussions had continued up until December 19 — one week before The Times’ complaint was filed.

“The negotiations focused on a high-value partnership around real-time display with attribution in ChatGPT, in which The New York Times would gain a new way to connect with their existing and new readers, and our users would gain access to their reporting,” OpenAI said.

“We regard The New York Times’ lawsuit to be without merit. Still, we are hopeful for a constructive partnership with The New York Times and respect its long history,” it added.

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