Thousands of authors call on AI companies to compensate them

19 Jul 2023

Margaret Atwood in 2017. Image: Mauro Rico/Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A letter signed by Margret Atwood, George Saunders and Jodi Picoult, among others, argues that AI is ‘flooding the market with mediocre, machine-written books’.

Thousands have signed a letter written by the Authors Guild, the oldest professional organisation for writers in the US, calling on the likes of OpenAI, Alphabet and Meta to stop using their work to train AI models without “consent, credit or compensation”.

Published yesterday (18 July), the letter has been signed by more than 8,000 writers including Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Jodi Picoult, George Saunders and Suzanne Collins.

“Generative AI technologies built on large language models owe their existence to our writings. These technologies mimic and regurgitate our language, stories, style and ideas,” the letter reads. “Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays and poetry provide the ‘food’ for AI systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill.”

The letter is specifically addressed to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“You’re spending billions of dollars to develop AI technology. It is only fair that you compensate us for using our writings, without which AI would be banal and extremely limited,” it went on.

The Authors Guild notes that authors in the US have experiences a 40pc decline in income over the past decade, with the current median income for full-time writers being a mere $23,000.

The letter argues that by embedding their writings in AI systems, the companies threaten to “damage our profession by flooding the market with mediocre, machine-written books, stories and journalism” based on the authors’ works.

Writers also worry that AI can make things “even more difficult, if not impossible” for younger writers and those from under-represented communities to earn a living.

This letter comes at a time when various groups of artists in the US are agitated by the rise of AI and its negative consequences on their livelihoods. The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild are spearheading the Hollywood strike, and their complaints include the use of AI tech without fair compensation for screen writers and actors.

The US Dramatists Guild has also urged members to support the latest letter to tech companies, arguing that the rise of AI has “ramifications for theatrical writers as well”.

Now, authors want leaders in the AI space to “mitigate the damage” done to their profession by agreeing to obtain permission before using copyrighted material and compensate writers fairly for “past and ongoing use” of their works, even when outputs are not infringing under current law.

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Margaret Atwood in 2017. Image: Mauro Rico/Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic