Human Writers Worry As More Media Companies Make Deals With AI Companies


May 31, 2024, 11:46am

In more troubling news for human writers, OpenAI announced deals with Vox Media and The Atlantic this Wednesday.

In a statement on their site, Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson framed the “partnership” as mutually beneficial. By positioning The Atlantic as a premium news source within OpenAI, reason ran, the paper’s “articles will be discoverable within OpenAI’s products, including ChatGPT, and as a partner, The Atlantic will help to shape how news is surfaced and presented in future real-time discovery products.”

The Vox announcement uses similarly slippery language to create the impression that this development is good for humans. But there is a whiff of get-out-in-front-of-the-inevitable logic at work here. Per The Washington Post, 

OpenAI…needs access to fresh content from behind news site paywalls to pitch its chatbots as the most up-to-date and helpful—and these content deals help the company accomplish that. Soon, when users ask ChatGPT for news updates, they will see headlines, sections of articles and links from the news sites that have partnered with the company. 

In other words? Publications hope that by willingly opening their archives to ChatGPT, they’ll receive attribution, referrals, and general pride of place in the algorithm’s recommendation features. Which may be something of a Faustian bargain, considering that generative AI tools already scrub those archives without asking permission.

As publishers continue to wheel and deal in board rooms, creatives are raging against the algorithms that “learn” from aggregating (and arguably, stealing) their content.

OpenAI is currently facing several lawsuits, including cases brought by The New York Times and the Authors Guild. This latter petition, whose plaintiffs include best-selling authors like John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Jonathan Franzen, and Elin Hildenbrand, alleges that OpenAI feeds books “into ChatGPT’s large language model algorithm without consent, compensation, or attribution, in violation of U.S. copyright law.”

OpenAI, meanwhile, claims their practices are fully legal, as they fall under the fair use provision.

As the technology is so new, it can be hard to know how freaked out to get. Some authors stay optimistic, and continue to explore AI’s creative potential. (Though not without trepidation.) Others are girding for existential war.

The popular bookstagram @litbowl put out a warning/rallying cry on their Insta just yesterday, to that end:

The Atlantic announced today, unfathomably, that they are entering a partnership with OpenAI, a company built entirely on the theft of other people’s work. If you or any writer you know has had an article, poem, story, or any other material published in The Atlantic, be aware that you may need to seek legal help to prevent them from selling your work, without compensation, to one of the most unethical companies in existence.

For readers, if you haven’t already, highly recommend unsubscribing and contacting them to voice your disgust.

If authors afraid of losing their livelihoods don’t move your needle (though…check yourself?), it’s worth noting that there are many other sound arguments against the proliferation of AI in media.

In an essay published last week in—wait for it—The Atlantic, the tech journalist Jessica Lessin cautioned against the very structure of these deals:

Chasing tech’s distribution and cash, news firms strike deals to try to ride out the next digital wave. They make concessions to platforms that attempt to take all of the audience (and trust) that great journalism attracts, without ever having to do the complicated and expensive work of the journalism itself.

And it never, ever works as planned.

See you on the ramparts, writers. And a reminding note: Vox’s portfolio includes The Verge, Eater, New York Magazine, The Cut, Vulture, and SB Nation.





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