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AI and journalism debate heads to the Hill

Jan 10, 2024
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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Journalism industry players are calling on Congress to require generative AI companies to obtain a license before using copyrighted news content.

Driving the news: The Senate Judiciary privacy, technology and the law subcommittee today will hold a hearing to examine how AI will impact the future of journalism.

  • The hearing comes on the heels of the New York Times' lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement.

Witnesses include:

  • News Media Alliance President Danielle Coffey
  • CUNY Graduate School of Journalism Professor Jeff Jarvis
  • National Association of Broadcasters President Curtis LeGeyt
  • Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch

What's happening: Witnesses will argue AI is turbocharging longstanding issues surrounding big tech compensation for journalistic content, the spread of disinformation, a decline in the quality of content and anticompetitive conduct by news distributers.

  • Generative AI will boost a marketplace imbalance where big tech platforms hold monopoly power in the ad tech ecosystem that results in revenue going to them instead of content creators, Coffey will say.
  • The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act — which aims to thwart anticompetitive behavior and has been championed by NMA — will no doubt come up during the hearing, though the bill faces an uphill climb.
  • NAB spokesperson Alex Siciliano said LeGeyt will "emphasize the vital role of local broadcasters in providing trusted news" and "share concerns about AI tools being used to doctor and manipulate images."

What constitutes fair use will also be a main sticking point.

  • In response to the NYT lawsuit, OpenAI on Monday said while their training is legally considered fair in the spirit of "being a good citizen" it has also provided publishers an opt-out process.
  • Lynch today will say: "Fair use is designed to allow criticism, parody, scholarship, research and news reporting. The law is clear that it is not fair use when there is an adverse effect on the market for the copyrighted material."

NMA will ask Congress to:

  • Require the recordkeeping and disclosure of unauthorized training uses of copyrighted material
  • Recognize unauthorized copying of publisher content to train commercial systems as infringing
  • Encourage market-based licensing solutions
  • Ensure generative AI is designed responsibly, in part by stripping AI generated content from Section 230 immunity as Sen. Josh Hawley proposes
  • Enforce anti-piracy

The other side: Jarvis, a JCPA opponent, will say: "I worry that publishers will attempt to extend copyright to their benefit not only with search and social platforms but now with AI companies, disadvantaging new and small competitors in an act of regulatory capture."

The big picture: While some news organizations are brokering deals with AI companies, other copyright holders are taking them to court.

  • News organizations say they want to embrace AI — but through proper licensing agreements, not unauthorized and uncompensated use.
  • Copyright holders may be in need of guardrails now, but congressional inertia remains.
  • There's a bipartisan desire to avoid hampering AI innovation and some lawmakers will want to see what courts decide first.
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