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More than 15,000 Authors Sign Authors Guild Letter Calling on AI Industry Leaders to Protect Writers

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Updated September 29, 2023

New York, N.Y.—July 18, 2023 —The Authors Guild, the leading professional organization for writers in the United States, has submitted an open letter to the CEOs of prominent AI companies, including OpenAI, Alphabet, Meta, Stability AI, IBM, and Microsoft. The letter calls attention to the inherent injustice of building lucrative generative AI technologies using copyrighted works and asks AI developers to obtain consent from, credit, and fairly compensate authors.

More than 15,000 writers and their supporters have signed the letter including luminaries such as Dan Brown, James Patterson, Jennifer Egan, David Baldacci, Michael Chabon, Nora Roberts, Jesmyn Ward, Jodi Picoult, Ron Chernow, Michael Pollan, Suzanne Collins, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Roxane Gay, Celeste Ng, Louise Erdrich, Viet Thanh Nguyen, George Saunders, Min Jin Lee, Andrew Solomon, Rebecca Makkai, Tobias Wolff, and many others.

The open letter emphasizes that generative AI technologies heavily rely on authors’ language, stories, style, and ideas. Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays, and poetry serve as the foundation for AI systems, yet authors have not received any compensation for their contributions. These works are part of the fabric of the language models that power ChatGPT, Bard, and other generative AI systems. Where AI companies like to say that their machines simply “read” the texts that they are trained on, this is inaccurate anthropomorphizing. Rather, they copy the texts into the software itself, and then they reproduce them again and again.

Maya Shanbhag Lang, president of the Authors Guild, said, “The output of AI will always be derivative in nature. AI regurgitates what it takes in, which is the work of human writers. It’s only fair that authors be compensated for having ‘fed’ AI and continuing to inform its evolution. Our work cannot be used without consent, credit, and compensation. All three are a must.”

Bestselling romance novelist Nora Roberts expressed her support for the letter by stating, “If creators aren’t compensated fairly, they can’t afford to create. If writers aren’t paid to write, they can’t afford to write. Human beings create and write stories human beings read. We’re not robots to be programmed, and AI can’t create human stories without taking from human stories already written.”

Novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen also commended the effort, stating, “The Authors Guild is taking an important step to advance the rights of all Americans whose data and words and images are being exploited, for immense profit, without their consent—in other words, pretty much all Americans over the age of six.”

The potential of mediocre, machine-written books, stories, and journalism based on authors’ original work flooding the market poses a significant threat to the writing profession. The Guild’s letter points out that the bulk of the books used in the “training” datasets originated from pirate sources and websites, and calls into question AI companies’ fair use arguments. The letter goes on to note that the recent Supreme Court decision in Warhol v. Goldsmith further casts doubt on the AI companies’ fair use arguments by rejecting it as a valid defense where the use results in a commercial substitute for the original work.

Over more than the last decade, authors experienced a 40% decline in income, and the median writing-related income for full-time writers for 2022 was a mere $23,330 according to the Authors Guild’s most recent income survey with over 5,700 respondents. The advent of AI technology further exacerbates these challenges and will make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for writers—particularly those from underrepresented communities—to earn a living from the craft most spent years if not decades perfecting. When writers have to give up their profession, it is a grave problem for all of us, not just the writers, because far fewer great books get written and published; and a free, democratic culture depends on a healthy, diverse ecosystem in which all views and voices are heard and ideas exchanged. 

The Authors Guild appeals to the leaders of the AI industry to address these concerns and take the following actions:

  1. Obtain permission for the use of copyrighted material in generative AI programs.
  2. Fairly compensate writers for both past and ongoing use of their works in generative AI programs.
  3. Fairly compensate writers for the use of their works in AI output, regardless of whether the outputs infringe upon current laws.

The Authors Guild believes that cooperation with AI industry leaders is vital to safeguarding the writing profession. By uniting writers’ voices, the Authors Guild aims to foster an environment that upholds the basic principles of fairness and recognition.

Read the open letter here.

The Guild has been diligently addressing the challenges posed by generative AI technologies to the writing community. This open letter represents one of the many efforts to advance the cause of fairness and compensation for authors, and to ensure that the writing profession endures and thrives into the future.

Last month, Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger and Director of Advocacy and Policy Umair Kazi, together with our DC lobbyist Marla Grossman and her staff, met with the offices of key lawmakers—including senators Chuck Schumer, Chris Coons, Amy Klobuchar, and Martin Heinrich—to address critical issues concerning generative AI and protective measures for writers. The issues addressed were collective licensing and copyright protection, an antitrust exemption, and AI-labeling and transparency requirements. Read more about the visit here. This was the Guild’s second visit to Capitol Hill to discuss the guardrails needed in the age of AI.

Part of what the Authors Guild is proposing is to create a collective license whereby a collective management organization (CMO) would license out rights on behalf of authors, negotiate meaningful, fair fees with the AI companies, and then distribute those payments to authors. These licenses would cover past uses of books, articles, and other works in AI systems, as well as future uses. The latter would not be licensed without a specific opt-in from the author or other rightsholder. Further details about the Guild’s generative AI advocacy efforts are available here, and FAQs on positions and advocacy around generative AI are available to read here.

About the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation

With more than 13,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm, the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.

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