A number of companies are facing lawsuits over alleged copyright infringement due to how their AI models were trained.
The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) models in the past year has led to a host of tools for text, image, and audio generation – but a number of companies are facing legal ramifications for the way their models were trained.
Tech companies including Meta Platforms, Stability AI, and Microsoft-backed OpenAI are facing lawsuits from authors, visual artists, and other copyright owners over the use of their work to train the companies’ generative AI software.
Another case is now to be decided by a jury after media conglomerate Thomson Reuters accused a legal AI company of copying its content.
The judge’s decision on Monday in the US state of Delaware sets the stage for what could be one of the first trials related to the unauthorised use of data to train AI systems.
Thomson Reuters claims Ross Intelligence unlawfully copied content from its legal-research platform Westlaw to train their own competing AI-based platform.
A spokesperson for Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Reuters News, said it looks forward to presenting evidence to a jury.
“This case continues to be about Ross’ theft of Thomson Reuters proprietary commentary, analysis, and organisational system,” the spokesperson said.
“We sought summary judgement on select issues because we believe the facts of the case are clear cut.”
Representatives for Ross did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Thomson Reuters’ 2020 lawsuit accused legal research company Ross Intelligence of copying Westlaw’s “headnotes,” which summarise points of law in court opinions. Thomson Reuters accused Ross of misusing thousands of the headnotes to train its AI-based legal search engine.
Ross said it shut down its platform in January 2021, citing the costs of the “spurious” litigation. Reuters could not establish if it did so.
Is training AI using copyrighted content beneficial?
Both companies asked the court for pretrial wins in the case. Ross argued in part that it made fair use of the Westlaw material, raising what could be a pivotal question for legal disputes over generative AI training.
Ross said that the Headnotes material was used as a “means to locate judicial opinions,” and that the company did not compete in the market for the materials themselves.
Thomson Reuters responded that Ross copied the materials to build a direct Westlaw competitor.
The judge, Stephanos Bibas, said a jury would need to decide on fair use and other questions, including the extent of Thomson Reuters’ copyright protection in the headnotes. He noted that there were factors in the fair-use analysis that favoured each side.
He added that he could not determine whether Ross “transformed” the Westlaw material into a “brand-new research platform that serves a different purpose,” which is often a key fair use question.
“Here, we run into a hotly debated question,” Bibas said. “Is it in the public benefit to allow AI to be trained with copyrighted material?”
No trial date has been set in the case.