Copyright Case Study: News Agencies vs Generative AI

The New York Times vs ChatGPT and Microsoft

Dr. Susanna Grech Deguara | 21 Feb 2024

Copyright Case Study News Agencies vs Generative AI img

There's a widespread discussion surrounding ChatGPT, an advanced generative artificial intelligence (AI) language model. This model has the capability to produce text that closely resembles human-generated content, prompting significant inquiries into its implications within the framework of copyright law.

Key Legal Issues

  • Copyright Protection of online literature 
  • Legal Implications of Generative AI
  • Claim for copyright breach

The Lawsuit

On Wednesday the 27th of December, The New York Times (The Times) initiated legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, alleging copyright infringement and escalating the ongoing legal dispute over the unauthorized utilisation of published content for training artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The Times is the first major American media entity to file a lawsuit against these companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other widely-used AI platforms, citing copyright concerns related to its written content. The legal complaint, lodged in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, asserts that millions of articles published by The Times were used in training automated chatbots, which now function as competitors to the news outlet as reliable information sources.

While the lawsuit does not specify a set monetary claim, it contends that the defendants should be accountable for "billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages" arising from the "unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works." Additionally, it calls for the companies to eliminate any chatbot models and training data incorporating copyrighted material from The Times. 

The lawsuit not only seeks to safeguard intellectual property but also portrays AI systems like ChatGPT as potential competitors in the news industry. The complainants argue that when chatbots respond to current events or news topics, relying on journalism by The Times, there is a risk of readers being satisfied with the chatbot's response, reducing traffic to The Times's website and impacting advertising and subscription revenue.

The news agency cites instances where chatbots provided users with near-verbatim excerpts from Times articles, potentially undermining the need for users to visit the newspaper's website. The legal action also highlights potential damage to The Times's brand through AI "hallucinations," where chatbots insert false information falsely attributed to The Times.

The lawsuit provides examples of how AI systems, powered by ChatGPT, reproduced results almost verbatim from The Times's product review site, Wirecutter, potentially leading to decreased traffic and revenue for Wirecutter. Additionally, it raises concerns about AI-generated misinformation falsely attributed to The Times, highlighting the potential societal costs of diminished independent journalism.

Out of Court Settlement

The case outlines that the news agency initiated discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI in April to express concerns about the use of its intellectual property and to explore a potential amicable agreement. This resolution could involve a commercial agreement and the implementation of "technological guardrails" around generative AI products. However, these discussions have been futile.

An OpenAI spokesperson, Lindsey Held, expressed in a statement that the company had been engaging in constructive discussions with The New York Times and was "surprised and disappointed" by the lawsuit. Held emphasized OpenAI's commitment to respecting the rights of content creators, expressing optimism about finding mutually beneficial ways to collaborate, similar to arrangements with other publishers. Microsoft declined to comment on the case.


This legal action has the potential to challenge the evolving legal landscape surrounding generative AI technologies, particularly their use of text, images, and other content generated from extensive datasets. The outcome of this lawsuit could carry significant implications for the news industry, where successful business models, like The Times, have been built on online journalism, contrasting with the challenges faced by numerous newspapers and magazines due to shifts in readership to online platforms.

The lawsuit underscores the broader industry trend of news outlets exploring agreements for the use of their journalism by AI entities. The Associated Press, for example, have entered licensing deals with OpenAI. However, terms of these agreements remain undisclosed.

Currently, OpenAI, valued at over €73 billion by investors, and Microsoft has invested €12 billion in OpenAI.In fact, Microsoft have integrated its technology into the Bing search engine, are accused of leveraging The Times' content without payment to create products that substitute for and draw audiences away from the newspaper. The lawsuit contends that the defendants are attempting to benefit from The Times' substantial investment in journalism.

The legal dispute highlights concerns across creative industries regarding the uncompensated use of intellectual property by AI systems.

Other Legal Action

Similar legal challenges have emerged in recent months, involving celebrities like Sarah Silverman and authors such as Jonathan Franzen and John Grisham, raising questions about copyright liability and the impact on AI development.

As part of its response, The Times is not only pursuing legal action but also exploring the use of AI technology within its operations. The newspaper recently appointed an editorial director of artificial intelligence initiatives to establish protocols for AI use in the newsroom and integrate technology into journalism.

How we can help

In conclusion, as the realm of AI continues to evolve, the legislation is also evolving with the aim of keeping up. As a Malta IP Law Firm, Chetcuti Cauchi offers a wide-ranging variety of services for individuals and entities seeking to protect their ideas, marks, inventions, works and designs from potential threats.

Clients may benefit from our services from the very early stages of the inception of their projects to the finalisation stages. By nature, intellectual property rights are of an ongoing character and hence our services have been likewise designed with the intention of also providing clients with continuous assistance throughout the duration of their project or business.

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Key Contacts

Dr Maria Chetcuti Cauchi

Senior Partner, Property & Projects

+356 2205 6112

Dr Charlene Mifsud

Partner, Corporate & Commercial

+356 2205 6298

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