Last Tuesday, the Authors Guild and 17 authors, including George R.R. Martin, Jonathan Franzen, Elin Hilderbrand, John Grisham and Jodi Picoult, filed a proposed class action complaint against OpenAI, alleging direct, vicarious and contributory copyright infringement. The Plaintiffs seek “redress for Defendants’ flagrant and harmful infringements of Plaintiffs’ registered copyrights in written works of fiction.”

Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that:

Defendants copied Plaintiffs’ works wholesale, without permission or consideration. Defendants then fed Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works into their ‘large language models’ or ‘LLMs,’ algorithms designed to output human-seeming text responses to users’ prompts and queries. These algorithms are at the heart of Defendants’ massive commercial enterprise. And at the heart of these algorithms is systematic theft on a mass scale.

Defendants could have ‘trained’ their LLMs on works in the public domain. They could have paid a reasonable licensing fee to use copyrighted works. What Defendants could not do was evade the Copyright Act altogether to power their lucrative commercial endeavor, taking whatever datasets of relatively recent books they could get their hands on without authorization. There is nothing fair about this. Defendants’ unauthorized use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works thus presents a straightforward infringement case applying well-established law to well recognized copyright harms.

In support of their request for class certification, Plaintiffs “seek to represent a class of professional fiction writers whose works spring from their own minds and their creative literary expression” and whose livelihoods are allegedly endangered by OpenAI’s ability to “allow anyone to generate—automatically and freely (or very cheaply)—texts that they would otherwise pay writers to create.”

Similar copyright infringement lawsuits have been filed by authors and comedians in the Northern District of California.

The New York case has been assigned to Judge Stein.