World Wide

Debate Emerges Over Transparency in Authors' Ties to Tech Giants

Advocates call for transparency on authors' ties to Microsoft and Google in AI copyright debate.

By Athena Xu

4/26, 14:23 EDT
Alphabet Inc.
Microsoft Corporation
New York Times Company

Key Takeaway

  • Digital rights groups call for transparency on authors' ties to Microsoft and Google in a debate over AI copyright law.
  • The article examines potential copyright infringements by tech companies in AI development, amid legal battles like the NYT vs. Microsoft/OpenAI case.
  • Despite funding from tech giants, authors assert independence in their research, emphasizing transparency and editorial standards.

Disclosure Debate in AI Copyright Law

A forthcoming article in the Journal of the Copyright Society is at the center of a debate over the disclosure of authors' ties to major tech companies, Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google. Digital rights groups, including the Revolving Door Project, Tech Transparency Project, and Music Workers Alliance, have raised concerns about the potential lack of transparency regarding the authors' financial connections to these AI giants. The groups emphasize the importance of readers having a "full and complete picture" of such ties, given the significant implications of copyright law on generative AI for the tech industry.

Legal Implications for AI Development

The article, titled “Talkin’ ‘Bout AI Generation: Copyright and the Generative-AI Supply Chain,” explores how tech companies might infringe on copyright laws throughout the development of AI tools. This issue has gained prominence following a lawsuit by The New York Times Co. against Microsoft and OpenAI Inc., accusing them of using copyrighted material to train ChatGPT, potentially leading to billions in liabilities. The paper's relevance is underscored by ongoing legal battles and the push for clearer disclosure of tech funding in academic and legal discussions surrounding AI.

Authors' Backgrounds and Funding

Authored by Cornell Professor James Grimmelmann, A. Feder Cooper, and Katherine Lee, the paper draws on their extensive experience in the field. Grimmelmann's Research Lab for Applied Law and Technology, which he leads, receives funding from Microsoft, and he disclosed a $175,000 research grant from Microsoft in 2021. Cooper has a history as a student researcher at both Microsoft and Google, while Lee is part of Google’s AI research lab, DeepMind, and contributed to research foundational to the Times’ lawsuit against OpenAI. Despite these connections, the authors assert that the paper was independently funded and written without direct or indirect support from any tech company, emphasizing their adherence to Cornell University's financial backing and editorial independence.

Transparency and Editorial Standards

The Journal of the Copyright Society, along with the authors, has responded to the concerns by highlighting their commitment to transparency and strict disclosure policies. Copyright Society Executive Director Kaitland Kubat reaffirmed the nonprofit's dedication to transparency, requiring authors to disclose relevant information in their articles. Grimmelmann, Cooper, and Lee have also pointed to their practice of openly disclosing their affiliations and funding sources on their personal websites and within the publicly available draft of the paper. Additionally, they are in the process of establishing the GenLaw Center, an AI-focused nonprofit, and have been transparent about the sponsorship and funding sources for their previous conference, which received support from Google, Microsoft, and Anthropic.