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OpenAI and Microsoft hit with copyright lawsuit from non-fiction authors

The companies refuse to pay authors, the lawsuit says, while making money off their technology.

Anadolu via Getty Images

OpenAI has been hit with another lawsuit, accusing it of using other people's intellectual property without permission to train its generative AI technology. Only this time, the lawsuit also names Microsoft as a defendant. The complaint was filed by Julian Sancton on behalf of a group of non-fiction authors who said they were not compensated for the use of their books and academic journals in training the company's large language model.

In their lawsuit, the authors state how they spend years "conceiving, researching, and writing their creations." They accuse OpenAI and Microsoft of refusing to pay authors while building a business "valued into the tens of billions of dollars by taking the combined works of humanity without permission." The companies pretend copyright laws do not exist, the complaint reads, and have "enjoyed enormous financial gain from their exploitation of copyrighted material."

Sancton is the author behind Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey Into the Dark Antarctic, which tells the true survival story of an 1897 polar expedition that got stuck in the ocean in the middle of a sunless Antarctic winter. Sancton spent five years and tens of thousands of dollars to research and write the book. "Such an investment of time and money is feasible for Plaintiff Sancton and other writers because, in exchange for their creative efforts, the Copyright Act grants them 'a bundle of exclusive rights' in their works, including 'the rights to reproduce the copyrighted work[s],'" according to the lawsuit.

As Forbes notes, OpenAI previously said that content generated by ChatGPT doesn't constitute "derivative work" and, hence, doesn't infringe on any copyright. Sancton's lawsuit is merely the latest complaint against the company over its use of copyrighted work to train its technology. Earlier this year, screenwriter and author also Michael Chabon sued OpenAI for the same thing, as did George R.R. Martin, John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. Comedian Sarah Silverman filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and Meta, as well. Sancton is now seeking damages and injunctive relief for all the proposed class action's defendants.