OpenAI promises to defend business customers against copyright claims

OpenAI -- bowing to peer pressure -- today announced it'll step in and defend businesses using OpenAI products if they face claims around copyright infringement as it pertains to OpenAI apps and services.

As part of a new program, Copyright Shield, OpenAI says that it'll pay the legal costs incurred by customers -- specifically customers using the "generally available" features of OpenAI's developer platform and ChatGPT Enterprise, the business tier of its AI-powered ChatGPT chatbot -- who face lawsuits over IP claims against work generated by an OpenAI tool.

The protections seemingly don't extend to all OpenAI products, like the free and Plus tiers of ChatGPT. And it's unclear whether OpenAI is offering training data indemnity -- that is, indemnity against claims made over the training data used by a customer for OpenAI's in-house generative AI models. We'll update this post as we learn more.

"OpenAI is committed to protecting our customers with built-in copyright safeguards in our systems," OpenAI wrote in a blog post shared with TechCrunch.

Generative AI models such as ChatGPT, GPT-4 and DALL-E 3 "learn" from examples to craft essays and code, create artwork and compose music -- and even write lyrics to accompany that music. They’re trained on millions to billions of e-books, art pieces, emails, songs, audio clips, voice recordings and more, most of which come from public websites.

Some of these examples are in the public domain -- at least in the case of vendors that trawl the web for training data, like OpenAI. Others aren’t or come under a restrictive license that requires citation or specific forms of compensation.

The legality of vendors training on data without permission is another matter that’s being hashed out in the courts. But what might possibly land generative AI users in trouble is regurgitation, or when a generative model spits out a mirror copy of a training example.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that in a recent survey of Fortune 500 companies by Acrolinx, nearly a third said that intellectual property was their biggest concern about the use of generative AI. Another poll found that nine out of 10 developers "heavily consider" IP protection when making decisions on whether to use generative AI.

Some generative AI vendors have pledged to defend, financially and otherwise, customers using their generative AI tools who end up on the wrong side of copyright litigation. Others have published policies to shield themselves from liability, leaving customers to foot the legal bills.

IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Getty Images, Shutterstock and Adobe are among those who've explicitly said they'll indemnify generative AI customers over IP rights claims. Today, OpenAI joins that group -- and, if recent history is any indication, it most likely won't be the last.