Copyright. The right to copy?

There’s been a lot of discussion on the interwebs the last couple of days about copyright and AI, much of it centred around this article, where OpenAI claims they cannot create an innovative tool like ChatGPT without access to copyrighted material (cue sobs and tears).

On the one hand, OpenAI is a well-funded, Silicon Valley company, and I, for one, have so little sympathy for their claim that one would need a pretty powerful electron microscope to see it. They have no qualms about exploiting the creations and labour of others in order to entice you and me, and well-moneyed entities like Microsoft to pay handsomely for the privilege of using the tools they have developed.

My gut feeling is that if they need to use copyrighted material, they can bloody well pay for it. Like everyone else does. And if that means they can’t afford to use as much source material as they would like, that’s just too bad. There are many tiny violins ready to play for them.

But then, on the other hand, I think back to a time around 20 years ago when Napster, Limewire, and the Pirate Bay were the enemies du jour of the copyright industry — in that case, the major record labels who owned and controlled access to music pretty much worldwide. I cheered for the pirates, not because I wanted to destroy the possibilities artists had to make a living off their art, but because the gate keepers were the greater evil, stopping people from accessing music unless they went through the gate keepers.

And I am conflicted today. OpenAI is not the Pirate Bay, a small group of idealistic hackers wanting to undermine a monopolistic, capitalist gatekeeping system that locked artists behind paywalls, but are there similarities? Given the funders behind OpenAI, I am inclined to think not.

But I still need to think about it.

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