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Two of the plaintiffs: John Grisham (left) and George R.R. Martin

Photo: AP

A group of 17 authors, including John Grisham, Jodi Picoult and George R.R. Martin, has filed a lawsuit against the AI company OpenAI for "systematic theft on a large scale". They accuse the company of illegally training its artificial intelligence (AI)-based chatbot ChatGPT with its copyrighted works.

In the documents filed on Tuesday in a federal court in New York, the authors accuse the company of "blatant" infringements of their copyrights. They accuse OpenAI of basing ChatGPT on "systematic theft on a large scale". The lawsuit, organized by the Authors Guild, has also been joined by David Baldacci, Sylvia Day, Jonathan Franzen and Elin Hilderbrand, among others.

An AI prequel to »Game of Thrones«

It is imperative to put a stop to "this theft," said the executive director of the Authors Guild, Mary Rasenberger. Otherwise, the end of the literary culture "that feeds many other creative industries in the United States" is imminent. According to Rasenberger, authors must have the opportunity to "control whether and how their works are used by generative AI."

AI language models such as ChatGPT's would jeopardize the livelihoods of writers because they "allow anyone to automatically generate texts for free (or at least very cheaply) that authors would otherwise have to be paid to create." OpenAI's software is even able to "spit out derivative works" from the originals and thereby "damage the market for these works".

To substantiate this allegation, the statement of claim cites specific ChatGPT requests for each of the plaintiff authors. According to the report, the software generated "a copyright-infringing, unauthorized and detailed sketch for a prequel" to "Game of Thrones". Its title is »A Dawn of Direwolves«. The characters are the same as in George R.R. Martin's books of the series "A Song of Ice and Fire", which served as a model for the TV series.

Not an isolated case

In a statement on Wednesday, an OpenAI spokesperson said the company respects the rights of writers and authors and believes they should benefit from AI technology. In addition, talks are being held "with many authors around the world", including with the Authors Guild. The company is "optimistic that we will continue to find mutually beneficial ways to work together to help people use new technologies in a rich content ecosystem."

The 17 authors are not alone in their current lawsuit. Earlier in September, another group of authors, including Michael Chabon and David Henry Hwang, sued OpenAI for "clear intellectual property infringement."

In California, OpenAI asked a federal judge in August to dismiss similar lawsuits filed by comedian Sarah Silverman and author Paul Tremblay. The company argued that the plaintiffs were "misunderstanding the scope of copyright." It invokes, for example, the "right to fair use", which leaves "room for innovations such as the large language models, which are now at the forefront of artificial intelligence".

Objections from authors have already led to Amazon changing its guidelines for e-books. Authors who wish to publish their books through the Kindle Direct program are encouraged to inform the company if they contain AI-generated material. To curb the proliferation of AI texts, the company has limited the number of new books that authors are allowed to publish through Kindle Direct to three per day.