OpenAI Makes Licensing Deals With Atlantic, Vox

OpenAI announced pacts with two more media companies — Vox Media and The Atlantic — to license their content for the ChatGPT artificial-intelligence chatbot. Under the deals, the companies also will work with OpenAI on a range of product-development initiatives.

In recent months, OpenAI has struck similar deals with companies including News Corp, Dotdash Meredith, the Financial Times and Reddit. In another camp are the New York Times and other newspapers, which have sued OpenAI as well as Microsoft, alleging the tech companies engaged in copyright infringement by using the publishers’ content to train their AI systems.

Highlighting the discord in this area, The Atlantic published an article on May 24 titled “Media Companies Are Making a Huge Mistake With AI,” in which Jessica Lessin, founder of tech news site The Information, asserted that “News organizations rushing to absolve AI companies of theft are acting against their own interests.” Deals like the one The Atlantic just announced with OpenAI “amount to settling without litigation,” Lessin wrote. “The publishers willing to roll over this way aren’t just failing to defend their own intellectual property — they are also trading their own hard-earned credibility for a little cash from the companies that are simultaneously undervaluing them and building products quite clearly intended to replace them.”

Financial terms of OpenAI’s deals with Vox Media and The Atlantic weren’t disclosed.

Vox Media, whose properties include Vox, The Verge, Eater, New York Magazine, The Cut, Vulture and SB Nation, will license content to OpenAI that will “help inform ChatGPT’s 100 million users, receiving brand attribution and audience referrals,” according to the company. As part of the agreement, Vox Media will work with OpenAI to build “audience-facing and internal applications and capabilities.” Among other uses, Vox Media will tap into OpenAI’s tools to enhance its affiliate commerce product, The Strategist Gift Scout, and plans to use OpenAI technology to bolster its Forte first-party data platform. (Disclosure: Penske Media Corp., publisher of Variety, became Vox Media’s largest single shareholder last year after PMC acquired a minority stake in the company reported to be 20%.)

In a statement after the deal was announced, Vox Media’s editorial unions, which are affiliated with WGA East, said their members “were informed without warning that Vox Media entered into a ‘strategic content and product partnership’ with OpenAl.”

“As both journalists and workers, we have serious concerns about this partnership, which we believe could adversely impact members of our union, not to mention the well-documented ethical and environmental concerns surrounding the use of generative Al,” the Vox Media Union, Thrillist Union and Dodo Union said in a joint statement. “We demand that Vox Media engage with us on this issue transparently — and address our many unanswered questions about this partnership — instead of continuing to fail to include our voices in decisions like these. We know that Al is already having a monumental impact on our work, and we demand a seat at the table in discussions about its future at Vox Media.”

Under The Atlantic’s deal with OpenAI, the publisher’s articles will be discoverable in OpenAI’s products, including ChatGPT, and The Atlantic “will help to shape how news is surfaced and presented in future real-time discovery products,” it said. In addition, The Atlantic’s product team will have “privileged access to OpenAI tech, give feedback and share use-cases to shape and improve future news experiences in ChatGPT and other OpenAI products,” the company said. The Atlantic is currently developing an experimental microsite, called Atlantic Labs, to figure out how AI can help in the development of new products and features to “better serve its journalism and readers.”

Jim Bankoff, co-founder, chair and CEO of Vox Media, said in a statement, “We’re thrilled to partner with OpenAI. This agreement aligns with our goals of leveraging generative AI to innovate for our audiences and customers, protect and grow the value of our work and intellectual property, and boost productivity and discoverability to elevate the talent and creativity of our exceptional journalists and creators.”

The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson commented, “We believe that people searching with AI models will be one of the fundamental ways that people navigate the web in the future. We’re delighted to partner with OpenAI, to make The Atlantic’s reporting and stories more discoverable to their millions of users, and to have a voice in shaping how news is surfaced on their platforms.”

Meanwhile, OpenAI recently was at the center of a controversy involving actor Scarlett Johansson. Last week, Johansson said she turned down the company’s request for her to reprise her role in the movie “Her” and lend her voice to ChatGPT — and was “shocked” and “angered” that the company went ahead and used a voice that sounded very similar to hers anyway. Johansson, in a statement provided to Variety, said her lawyers contacted OpenAI to have the voice of Sky, one of the new voices in the GPT-4o chatbot that sounded like her voice, pulled down.

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