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Will OpenAI Eat The New York Times?

The New York Times is trying to sell a court on the notion that ChatGPT, the chatbot operated by Sam Altman’s OpenAI, is a plagiarist, mimicking their unique expression of facts.
The New York Times is trying to sell a court on the notion that ChatGPT, the chatbot operated by Sam Altman’s OpenAI, is a plagiarist, mimicking their unique expression of facts. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
January 8, 2024

On December 27, The New York Times dropped a legal bomb on OpenAI, accusing the ChatGPT maker of copyright infringement and seeking unspecified, presumably sizable, damages. Of course, plenty of journalists and lawyers cheered the move, imagining Sam Altman to be quaking in his candy-colored, Dall-E designed shoes. But I’m not vibing with the majority. In fact, I believe that A.G. Sulzberger and the paper’s legal team at Susman Godfrey are facing a rocky road ahead.

Let’s start with the notion that OpenAI is competing with the Times—a point the publication strongly emphasizes at the very beginning of its complaint. While I can fathom A.I. cooking up prize-winning news in the future, ChatGPT’s current capabilities are more modest, prone to factual mistakes and occasional “hallucinations.” (I’ve yet to encounter anyone swapping out their Times subscription for the $20/month ChatGPT Plus.) As for copyright law, the Times’ legal eagles are undoubtedly aware that the paper’s reporting is afforded “thin” copyright protection, given that facts aren’t copyrightable, and no one possesses a monopoly on a true story.