Episode 73

Generative AI and Copyright Protection for Authors

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

It has been a few weeks since I approached the topic of AI. That’s not because I don’t think it’s important. Rather, I am trying to mitigate the fear mongering and present to you the most important information an author needs to know right now.

The process of deciding what you absolutely need to know is more daunting than I expected. After having lived through the panic and praise of the metaverse, NFTs, Web3, and even Y2K, I find it hard not to roll my eyes at the amount of anxiety over AI. And all of this is coming at a time when content is king, so the more you can say, the more videos you can post, the more words in your article, the more minutes in your podcast, the more money you can make.

Content creators will do anything they can to make you feel either despair or delight. They don’t care which you feel, as long as they can keep your attention. Reason, stoicism, and logic have no role except as an unwieldy tool of condescension.

Setting aside all of my frustrations and disgust over these constant attempts at manipulation, I invite you to join me on the Overthinking Couch in the Writing Break cafe for what I hope to be a useful overview of artificial intelligence in book publishing today.

For starters, let’s discuss the difference between the artificial intelligence that actually exists and the artificial intelligence people are scared exists.

To do this, I’ll read from the blog of Bill Gates:

“Technically, the term artificial intelligence refers to a model created to solve a specific problem or provide a particular service. What is powering things like ChatGPT is artificial intelligence. It is learning how to do chat better but can’t learn other tasks. By contrast, the term artificial general intelligence refers to software that’s capable of learning any task or subject. AGI doesn’t exist yet—there is a robust debate going on in the computing industry about how to create it, and whether it can even be created at all.”

So, for now, robots will not be taking over the world. Humans and humans alone are behind all of the programming using AI. That explains the inaccuracies, oddities, and downright messiness of AI. But if you’ve been a human for long enough, it might terrify more than pacify you to know that humans are trying anything new.

I guess this is where I should state that, try as I might, I cannot seem to lose faith in humanity, not fully anyway. The promising future of AI in medical settings is enough to make me dig out my pom poms and cheer from the sidelines.

If you’re scared of AI just because it’s humans doing human things, I would say those feelings are valid. And I’m hoping to help you keep a modicum of faith in humankind.

Let’s refresh our drinks before digging into the kind of AI that writers and illustrators are keeping a watchful eye on these days.

Artificial general intelligence does not exist, and artificial intelligence does exist. We’ve got that much so far, right? Okay.

Then there’s generative AI, which is the kind of AI that can create new text, images, and music.

Yes, this means using AI to generate news articles, novels, book covers, movie soundtracks, and so on. Who is using AI in this manner? Talentless hacks and corporations trying to save a dime? In many cases, yes. But then there’s also people with no budget, who just want to express themselves as best they can. Not unlike a lot of writers I know who have the movie of their book playing in their head at all times, but they don’t have a filmmaking budget; they have a Microsoft Word budget. The difference, of course, is that AI-generated text, art, and music is only possible because of everything humans have already painstakingly written, drawn, painted, sculpted, and composed. AI programmers take from all of these artists, without permission, and call it open source. Appalling, right? I agree.

But if you know humankind, you know we always do it to ourselves. What do I mean by that? Well, we’ve created every system we’ve ever lived under. Every border, every political system, every financial system, every religion, everything. No alien overlord has come down to this planet to force us to live a certain way. We decide all of that for ourselves. And instead of peace and harmony, we have chaos and currency.

For starters, ChatGPT already has a subscription service. Who owns ChatGPT? OpenAI. That’s right. OpenAI is starting to charge for better access to ChatGPT. What’s that? You want priority access to ChatGPT during peak times? Pay up. You would like faster responses? That’s gonna cost you. You’re interested in new features and improvements? Well then, you need to pay for priority access. Sorry.

OpenAI is not even publicly traded . . .yet? Mm. OpenAI is as closed as any company can be these days. Like most companies, OpenAI’s primary concern is not its openness or its AI. Its primary concern is your money.

That’s just one example of how we’re bound to turn AI into something completely different in the future. In the same way that the printing press created the need for copyright laws, the development of AI is creating the need for new laws and regulations. It’s tempting to lean back, put my feet on my desk, clasp my hands behind my head, and say, “It’ll sort itself out.” Humans want to read stories, see art, and listen to music crafted by other humans. I don’t think that desire is ever going to go away. We should stay involved in the discussion and understand the direction in which things are headed. And somewhere down the line, we might need to make a bit of space for the robots.

Another thing I know about humankind is that we’re usually up for a fight, and if you can keep from swinging wildly, you might actually land a few punches.

We have time for one more round of drinks before I finish this episode by telling you about the people and organizations currently fighting for and against author and illustrator rights. Fair warning, it’s going to be like trying to give a play-by-play of a street brawl.

The US Copyright Office removed copyright protection from images in the graphic novel Zayra of the Dawn by Kris Kashtanova. The only reason these images had been granted copyright protection in the first place was that the author did not initially disclose that the images were created using the artificial intelligence system Midjourney.

According to Reuters, the US Copyright Office stated that “the fact that Midjourney's specific output cannot be predicted by users makes Midjourney different for copyright purposes than other tools used by artists."

The author, Kashtanova, tried to play off this bloody nose by saying that it’s a good thing for the “AI art community” that the graphic novel was able to keep some of the copyrights. Then why did you lie about the images in the first place, dear author?

Some of the most popular large language models, such as ChatGPT, were trained on a corpus of over 7,000 books scraped from Smashwords . . . without permission.

In a recent class action lawsuit, authors allege that OpenAI's use of their work in training ChatGPT violated copyright law. I’ll let you know how that turns out for them.

a bite out of you as well. In:

Last month, it was revealed that this is exactly what Apple has been doing.

In response to these developments, the Authors Guild has called on Apple to stop using audiobooks to train AI models–don’t hold your breath there. The Authors Guild has also updated their Model Trade Book Contract and Literary Translation Model Contract to include a clause to prohibit the use of an author's work for training artificial intelligence technologies without the author's permission.

Publishers and online platforms have been adding language to their terms that allows them to data-mine books for use in training AI models. The new clause in Authors Guild’s model contracts is meant to help you fight this. The new clause prohibits a publishing house or online platform from using or sub-licensing books under contract to train generative AI technologies without express permission.

Check the show notes for a link to that clause and to all of the stories in today’s episode.

Is this everything there is to say about AI? No. Are we going to revisit this topic in the future? I suppose. Will I ever say that technology is evil? No. Will I ever lose hope in humanity? Time can only tell. For now, I am still a big fan of people, especially those who know how to tell a good story.

So, I’ll keep visiting this cafe, sitting on this sofa, just waiting to see what you’re going to write next.

Thank you for stopping by. Please send in any questions that you want answered in an upcoming Q&A episode. Also, I will be in London later this year. For those of you in London or who have ever been to London, let me know what you think I should do, see, eat, or drink while I’m there.

Until next time, remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.