Renowned Authors Call for Fair Treatment in AI’s Use of Their Works

Renowned authors Margaret Atwood, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Philip Pullman, and nearly 8,000 others have joined forces in an open letter urging artificial intelligence (AI) companies to cease using writers’ work without proper consent or credit. The Authors Guild, America’s largest professional organization for writers, spearheaded the petition, which is directed at the CEOs of leading AI companies, including OpenAI, Alphabet, Meta, Stability AI, and IBM. 

The letter makes three critical demands:

  1. Obtaining permission for the use of copyrighted material.
  2. Fair compensation for past and ongoing usage of authors’ works.
  3. Fair compensation for the use of their works in AI output, regardless of infringement under current law.

Maya Shanbhag Lang, president of the Authors Guild, emphasized the significance of compensating authors for their contributions to AI’s development, stating that AI output is inherently derivative, relying on the creative works of human writers. Among the letter’s signatories are notable figures such as Jonathan Franzen, Jodi Picoult, and Michael Pollan, who believe this initiative is a crucial step in safeguarding the rights of content creators against exploitation.

The income disparity faced by writers has long been an issue, with the median writing-related income for full-time writers in the US being a meager $23,330 in 2022, according to the Authors Guild’s income survey. The advent of AI technology further exacerbates these challenges, particularly impacting underrepresented writers who may struggle to make a living from their craft. The Authors Guild highlights that such a situation detrimentally affects society at large, hindering the creation and publication of diverse and valuable literary works that contribute to a free and democratic culture.

This petition represents the latest effort by literary figures to combat the increasing use of AI in the literary sector. In a recent lawsuit filed against OpenAI, authors Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay alleged that the company violated copyright law with its chatbot, ChatGPT, which generates summaries of copyrighted works. The legal action raises complex questions about the implications of AI systems and their relationship with copyrighted content. The Society of Authors (SoA), the UK’s leading industry body for writers, has lent its support to both the legal action and the Authors Guild’s petition, emphasizing the importance of consent, credit, and compensation in safeguarding authors’ intellectual property rights.

While influencing AI developers is a critical step, Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA, points out that the challenges go beyond that. The race to develop advanced AI systems is predominantly driven by profit motives, with limited regulation and scrutiny on ethical implications. As the call for AI companies to respect creators’ rights gains momentum, the debate around AI’s ethical and legal boundaries remains an ongoing and pressing concern.