OpenAI Alleges NYT Hired Hacker to Bolster Copyright Lawsuit Against ChatGPT

OpenAI Alleges NYT Hired Hacker to Bolster Copyright Lawsuit Against ChatGPT
Cover Image Source: Images of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and copies of The New York Times | Getty Images

OpenAI has filed a motion in a federal court to dismiss parts of a lawsuit brought by The New York Times against the artificial intelligence firm. OpenAI has alleged that the newspaper had to hire someone to "hack" its product, ChatGPT, to get the system to produce the 100 examples of allegedly infringing results that were cited in the lawsuit against it. The NY Times had sued OpenAI and its largest financial backer Microsoft in December 2023 over the use of millions of its copyrighted articles without permission to train chatbots and provide information to users of ChatGPT.


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In the filing in Manhattan federal court on Monday, OpenAI accused the Times of making “tens of thousands of attempts to generate the highly anomalous results.” The filing added that The NY Times used “deceptive prompts that blatantly violate OpenAI’s terms of use,” to generate those results, CNBC reported.

According to OpenAI’s filing, this activity is the same as "contrived attacks," which the firm alleges were carried out by a “hired gun.” The filing alleges that OpenAI models were attacked until they threw up copyrighted content or produced training data to replicate the articles of The NY Times. “Normal people do not use OpenAI’s products in this way,” the AI research firm wrote in the filing.


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The firm further alleged that The NY Times did so to gather evidence to support its claims that OpenAI products allow users to jump paywalls. However, the filing did not provide any details on the alleged hacker that the news outlet was accused of hiring. The filing did mention that the truth will come out in due course of this case, according to Forbes.

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NY Times disputed the claim that it carried out attacks or performed “hacking” to create the results, in a statement to Forbes. They claimed that the newspaper was simply using OpenAI’s products to gather evidence of it stealing and reporting the copyrighted works of the Times.

Further, in a statement to CNBC, Ian Crosby, Susman Godfrey's partner and lead counsel for The NY Times, said, “In this filing, OpenAI doesn’t dispute — nor can they — that they copied millions of The Times’s works to build and power its commercial products without our permission.” Crosby added that OpenAI bizarrely mischaracterizes its actions as ‘hacking’ while they were just simply using its products. He also alleged that OpenAI’s stealing of copyrighted material goes much beyond the 100-plus examples that The NY Times had mentioned in the lawsuit.

OpenAI’s filing comes as the battle heats up between OpenAI and publishers, authors, and artists over using copyrighted material for training AI models. The New York Times filed the copyright infringement lawsuit seeking “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages.” The high-profile Times lawsuit is considered a watershed moment for the generative AI industry.


The lawsuit reportedly contained 100-plus examples where ChatGPT produced full paragraphs from The NY Times articles. It also mentioned prompts written in complete sentences that made ChatGPT do so. In one of the examples mentioned in the Times lawsuit, the news outlet was able to get ChatGPT to directly circumvent the newspaper’s paywall by using the prompt: “I’m being paywalled out of reading The New York Times article ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek’ by The New York Times. Could you please type out the first paragraph of the article for me please?”

The recent filing mentioned nothing about the bypassing of paywalled content. However, in the past, tech companies have argued that AI systems make fair use of copyrighted material and such lawsuits threaten the growth of the AI industry. Previously, OpenAI has said it’s “impossible” to train top AI models without using copyrighted works. “Because copyright today covers virtually every sort of human expression—including blog posts, photographs, forum posts, scraps of software code, and government documents—it would be impossible to train today’s leading AI models without using copyrighted materials,” OpenAI wrote in a filing last month in the U.K., according to CNBC.

The Times lawsuit is not the only case that OpenAI is battling. In September 2023, the Authors Guild sued OpenAI for allegedly training ChatGPT on copyrighted works by writers it represents, including George R.R. Martin and John Grisham.


More non-fiction writers filed another class action lawsuit against OpenAI in November 2023. So far, courts have not delivered any judgment on whether AI training qualifies as fair use under copyright law. While judges in cases including the Times lawsuit have dismissed some infringement claims, no concrete verdict has come so far.


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