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Authors push for change against unauthorized AI-written books

10,000 authors signed a letter, including big literary names like James Patterson and Margaret Atwood.
Authors push for change against unauthorized AI-written books
Posted at 8:06 PM, Aug 17, 2023

Jane Friedman, a writer who has been in the publishing industry for 25 years, found that there was something very wrong with some books being sold on Amazon under her name.

The topics were similar to what she writes, the name on the page was hers, but the actual writing wasn't. In fact, she believes it wasn't even human.

"It was clear that no specific work was being infringed. It was just something that was trying to trade on my name, and that all of the content had been generated by AI," said Friedman.

Because the writing wasn't a total copy of her work, nor infringement or plagiarism, it was even tricky to report it to Amazon. 

She says it took a post on X — formerly Twitter — and a blog entry to get the corporation's attention, and eventually the books using her name were taken down.

Though this instance may be settled, Friedman says this represents a much bigger AI-fueled problem for the industry. 

"It's a really aggravating time for people because it's all gray area. There aren't any laws or legislation that would help protect you. It's kind of like every man, woman, and child for themselves," she said. 

SEE MORE: Bringing AI into the classroom: Will states embrace it or ban it?

In a statement to Scripps News, Amazon spokesperson Lindsay Hamilton says that the company investigates book concerns when their guidelines may have been broken and, "We welcome author feedback and work directly with authors to address any issues they raise and where we have made an error, we correct it."

"It's, I think, becoming increasingly clear to the public — and has been clear to the technologists all along — that those systems don't exist without the data being fed into them," said Emily M. Bender, the director of the computational linguistics master's program at the University of Washington in Seattle. 

She says the ability of AI to pump out large quantities of convincing-enough texts, as well as the programs' use of the work of writers available online to train its systems, is concerning, and right now there's not much that can be done about it. 

"The fiction that this is somehow free is, is really just that — it's a fiction. It is the product of people's creative labor," said Bender. 

Mary Rasenberger is the CEO of the Authors Guild, the largest professional organization for writers in the U.S. The organization sent a letter to the big tech companies, including Open AI, calling the use of AI generative tech using copyrighted works unjust, and is calling on those companies to ask for permission from and to compensate writers.

Ten thousand authors signed the letter, including big literary names like James Patterson and Margaret Atwood.

The guild is also asking for Congress' support in making this a reality.

"It can never, never replace human creation and we fear that, because it's so cheap and easy, it could so easily flood the marketplace for books and ... we're trying to prevent that," she said. 

Authors are also asking for some sort of watermark or stamp that can let consumers know what they are buying is AI — but until these solutions become reality, it's up to both authors and book-lovers to be vigilant.

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