On Wednesday, news industry executives urged Congress for legal clarification that using journalism to train AI assistants like ChatGPT is not fair use, as claimed by companies such as OpenAI. Instead, they would prefer a licensing regime for AI training content that would force Big Tech companies to pay for content in a method similar to rights clearinghouses for music.
The plea for action came during a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Oversight of A.I.: The Future of Journalism,” chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, with Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri also playing a large role in the proceedings. Last year, the pair of senators introduced a bipartisan framework for AI legislation and held a series of hearings on the impact of AI.
Blumenthal described the situation as an “existential crisis” for the news industry and cited social media as a cautionary tale for legislative inaction about AI. “We need to move more quickly than we did on social media and learn from our mistakes in the delay there,” he said.
Companies like OpenAI have admitted that vast amounts of copyrighted material are necessary to train AI large language models, but they claim their use is transformational and covered under fair use precedents of US copyright law. Currently, OpenAI is negotiating licensing content from some news providers and striking deals, but the executives in the hearing said those efforts are not enough, highlighting closing newsrooms across the US and dropping media revenues while Big Tech’s profits soar.
“Gen AI cannot replace journalism,” said Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch in his opening statement. (Condé Nast is the parent company of Ars Technica.) “Journalism is fundamentally a human pursuit, and it plays an essential and irreplaceable role in our society and our democracy.” Lynch said that generative AI has been built with “stolen goods,” referring to the use of AI training content from news outlets without authorization. “Gen AI companies copy and display our content without permission or compensation in order to build massive commercial businesses that directly compete with us.”
In addition to Lynch, the hearing featured three other witnesses: Jeff Jarvis, a veteran journalism professor and pundit; Danielle Coffey, the president and CEO of News Media Alliance; and Curtis LeGeyt, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Coffey also shared concerns about generative AI using news material to create competitive products. “These outputs compete in the same market, with the same audience, and serve the same purpose as the original articles that feed the algorithms in the first place,” she said.
When Sen. Hawley asked Lynch what kind of legislation might be needed to fix the problem, Lynch replied, “I think quite simply, if Congress could clarify that the use of our content and other publisher content for training and output of AI models is not fair use, then the free market will take care of the rest.”
Lynch used the music industry as a model: “You think about millions of artists, millions of ultimate consumers consuming that content, there have been models that have been set up, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR, these collective rights organizations to simplify the content that’s being used.”
Curtis LeGeyt, CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said that TV broadcast journalists are also affected by generative AI. “The use of broadcasters’ news content in AI models without authorization diminishes our audience’s trust and our reinvestment in local news,” he said. “Broadcasters have already seen numerous examples where content created by our journalists has been ingested and regurgitated by AI bots with little or no attribution.”