The New York Times this week filed suit against Open AI and Microsoft over the unauthorized use of its intellectual property in the training of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. The suit, which the Times said is the first by a "major American media organization," was filed in the Southern District of New York and alleges that the AI services from both multi-billion dollar tech companies are “built on mass copyright infringement,” with potentially massive implications for the future of journalism.

“Defendants’ unlawful use of The Times’ work to create artificial intelligence products that compete with it threatens The Times’s ability to provide that service,” the complaint alleges. “Through Microsoft’s Bing Chat (recently rebranded as “Copilot”) and OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Defendants seek to free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment.”

Notably, the complaint states that until recently the Times was in talks with both companies but that negotiations broke down.

“For months, The Times has attempted to reach a negotiated agreement with Defendants," the complaint states. “Publicly, Defendants insist that their conduct is protected as ‘fair use’ because their unlicensed use of copyrighted content to train GenAI models serves a new ‘transformative’ purpose. But there is nothing “transformative” about using The Times’s content without payment to create products that substitute for The Times and steal audiences away from it. Because the outputs of Defendants’ GenAI models compete with and closely mimic the inputs used to train them, copying Times works for that purpose is not fair use.”

The suit seeks injunctive relief and an undisclosed damages award for “the billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages that they owe for the unlawful copying and use of The Times’ uniquely valuable works.”

In its own article announcing the suit, the Times acknowledges the host of suits already filed by creators against the companies over their inclusion in AI training, and notes that some media companies have already struck licensing agreements, including the Associated Press and Axel Springer. The suit also drives home the threat these new AI services pose for the journalistic enterprise.

“Making great journalism is harder than ever,” the complaint states. "Over the past two decades, the traditional business models that supported quality journalism have collapsed, forcing the shuttering of newspapers all over the country. It has become more difficult for the public to sort fact from fiction in today’s information ecosystem, as misinformation floods the internet, television, and other media. If The Times and other news organizations cannot produce and protect their independent journalism, there will be a vacuum that no computer or artificial intelligence can fill.”