George R.R. Martin, John Grisham and other major authors sue OpenAI, alleging “systematic theft”

OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, is facing a lawsuit from bestselling writers including George R.R. Martin, John Grisham and Elin Hilderbrand that claims the company fed their books into its “large language models” allegedly violating their copyrights and engaging in “systematic theft on a mass scale.”

The suit was filed in the Southern District of New York on Tuesday on behalf of the Authors Guild and 17 noted writers, including Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly and George Saunders. OpenAI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The complaint is the latest legal challenge facing OpenAI over the data it collects and uses to create the algorithm that underpins ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence tool that can answer questions and write text in sophisticated language that mimics how a human would respond. To create these AIs, companies like OpenAI rely on large language models, or LLMs, that are fed massive amounts of text and data.

“ChatGPT and the LLMs underlying it seriously threaten the livelihood of the very authors — including plaintiffs here, as discussed specifically below — on whose works they were ‘trained’ without the authors’ consent,” the lawsuit alleges. 

It added, “ChatGPT is being used to generate low-quality ebooks, impersonating authors and displacing human-authored books.”

The suit alleges that ChatGPT has been used by a programmer named Liam Swayne to “write” the sequels to George R.R. Martin’s best-selling series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which was adapted into the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones.” Martin hasn’t yet published the two final novels in the series – the lawsuit notes that he’s currently writing them — but Swayne used ChatGPT to create his own versions of these novels, which he has posted online.

“When prompted, ChatGPT accurately generated summaries of several of the Martin infringed works, including summaries for Martin’s novels ‘A Game of Thrones,’ ‘A Clash of Kings,’ and ‘A Storm of Swords,’ the first three books in the series A Song of Ice and Fire,” the suit notes, adding that ChatGPT has also created prequels and alternate versions of his books.

“ChatGPT could not have generated the results described above if OpenAI’s LLMs had not ingested and been ‘trained’ on the Martin infringed works,” the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit, which makes similar claims for the other authors, is seeking class-action status as it proposes to represent “tens of thousands” of authors whose works have allegedly been used by OpenAI’s programs. The other authors who are suing are Mary Bly, Sylvia Day, Jonathan Franzen, Christina Baker Kline, Maya Shanbhag Lang, Victor LaValle, Douglas Preston, Roxana Robinson and Rachel Vail.

The authors want the court to prohibit OpenAI from using copyrighted works in LLMs without “express authorization,” and they are also seeking damages including up to $150,000 per infringed work.

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