Why is AI (artificial intelligence) content generally frowned on in the writing community?

By L. V. Gaudet

Aside from the question of quantity over quality, there is the question of originality. AI is not some sentient super-being from a science fiction story come to life. It is as sentient as your Alexa that will say, “Who, who, who,” in response to your, “Who let the dogs out.”

AI is a computer program. It runs on algorithms, programming, and the data input into it. It does not have the organic sentient imagination to create new. AI regurgitates data scraped from other sources. Content that was created by someone else. Unfortunately, this vast library of data used to ‘train’ AI, as if you could ‘train’ it like a person to do a job, was downloaded without permission, and with no payment to the copyright holders. It is estimated that over 300,000 books were scraped, including from sources such as illegal “shadow libraries”. Those are libraries offering pirated books, copyrighted material reproduced without permission.

AI-generated content is not ‘written’ in the context of literary art. Where an author can spend hours crafting, revising, and breathing their soul into a short piece of writing, non-writers can input a few descriptive sentences with keywords into a program and have it generate the same word count in minutes, or less.

Auto generating a piece of text in moments is a sped-up version of fast-food storytelling with the cooks replaced by conveyor belts and automated spatula arms spasmodically flailing at breakneck speed. Only, it’s not the human entering the generating phrase’s story. Not really. The text was written by some other author, predictively selected by a software program, and revised by a computer algorithm.

A non-writer could generate hundreds of short text pieces in the time it takes a writer to create just one. Some markets have already been flooded by these attempts at getting paid for not actually creating anything, while the authors pouring their hearts into their work are up against a tidal wave of fake computer generated ‘writing’. This is literally taking money, and publishing opportunities, away from writers, and wasting a huge amount of editors’ and publishers’ time and money trying to weed them out.

The publishing world is already overwhelming for authors vying to have their passion projects read. So, when many of them get touchy on the subject of non-writers passing off AI-generated words as something they ‘wrote with AI,’ know that it’s like comparing a cold, dry, flat, and flavorless assembly-line created burger with a ‘Le Burger Week’ creation to a chef. While the quality is improving over the newer generations of AI, there is still no soul or love in it.

There is also the question of copyrights.

You’ve seen those little copyright blurbs at the start of every book. The ones that say something like this:

“All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher or author, except as permitted by Canadian (or U.S.) copyright law.”

OpenAI is facing yet another federal class action lawsuit. This time it’s been filed in California, accused of misappropriating personal information. This is in addition to multiple lawsuits in play for copyright infringement on a mass scale. Paul Tremblay and Mona Awad joined other authors who already signed onto lawsuits. The latest to join the growing list of lawsuits are Sarah Silverman, Christopher Golden, and Richard Kadrey. The U.S. Authors Guild published an open letter which more than 8,000 writers, including Margaret Atwood, have since signed.

Even as I was writing this article, news broke that The Authors Guild (U.S.), along with authors David Baldacci, John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Jodi Picoult, and 13 more, have filed a class-action suit against OpenAI.

Aside from the copyright theft on a grand scale issue (the plaintiffs’ books being downloaded from pirate ebook repositories and used without permission), why is The Authors Guild (U.S.) joining together with authors to fight new advancements in technology affecting writing?

Consider this statement in the press release put out by The Authors Guild:

“The Authors Guild organized the lawsuit after witnessing first-hand the harm and existential threat to the author profession wrought by the unlicensed use of books to create large language models that generate texts. According to the Guild’s latest author income survey, the median full-time author income in 2022 was just barely over $20,000, including book and other author-related activities. While 10 percent of authors earn far above the median, half earn even less. Generative AI threatens to decimate the author profession. The council of the Authors Guild and the board of the Authors Guild Foundation voted unanimously (with abstentions) to file the suit because of the profound unfairness and danger of using copyrighted books to develop commercial AI machines without permission or payment.”

Does the AI-generating or AI-assisted individual own the copyright to their non-human generated text?

That is open to debate and has not yet been definitively determined in the courts.

McGill University stated this in October 2022, in their article “The End of Creativity?! – AI-Generated Content under the Canadian Copyright Act”:

“There are a few different possible owners of an artwork created by AI. In the Canadian Copyright Act, owners are referred to as authors. The author is considered to be the first owner of a copyright, pursuant to sec. 13(1) of the Canadian Copyright Act. First, the person who wrote the code, the AI’s developer, could be the author and thus could own the copyright. But the user of the AI, the person who has caused a particular project to be generated, might also be involved. Another possible author could be the AI itself. If none of those players deserves ownership of the work, the copyright can remain in the public domain – and thus no intellectual property applies to it.”

According to the Canadian Bar Association’s publication “State of the Arts: How Should Canadian Copyright Law Treat Works. Generated by Artificial Intelligence?”:

“The fact that AI are capable of autonomously generating their own works engenders questions surrounding the ownership of copyright in those works. Competing claims of ownership may come from various entities who have ultimately contributed to creating the works in question. Firstly, the AI’s creator might own the copyright in the AI’s code and lay claim to ownership in any works derived from that AI. Secondly, a separate AI user may claim ownership in the copyright on the basis that they have selected the data and parameters around which to apply AI’s algorithmic processes. Finally, the investor or owner of the AI may constitute a third entity with a claim to ownership in the AI’s works.”

While, this August (2023), a U.S. Court in Washington, DC has ruled that, “A work of art created by artificial intelligence without any human input cannot be copyrighted under U.S. law.”

There are multiple decisions working through U.S. courts relating to whether or not AI-generated work in literature and art can by copyrighted by the non-writer/non-artist who input the key words and sentences to generate it using AI programs.

For those who are wholeheartedly embracing the next generations of (AI) generated content, it is a wonderful tool, when used as a tool to help you improve your writing art. But, letting it replace the writer wholly or in-part as the ‘author’ of the text, means AI is the ‘author’.

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