By his own admission, Matthew Butterick is an unlikely warrior against Big Tech. A web entrepreneur turned lawyer, Butterick is a creative at heart who forged a new career in typography — specifically, typography for legal documents and correspondence. But when generative AI blew up and raised pressing copyright questions, Butterick decided to fall back on his law degree and act.
Butterick and his co-counsel, San Francisco-based litigator Joseph Saveri, filed one of the earliest AI-related copyright infringement claims, and have followed up with several additional lawsuits alleging unlawful use of copyrighted material to train AI models. Their cases have run into some early obstacles — several claims have been dismissed, and some copyright experts find fault with Butterick and Savitar’s core theories about copyright infringement. Other claims are still active, but may take years to resolve.
But the battle is just starting, and much bigger combatants are joining the fray. In October 2023, Universal Music Group sued AI startup Anthropic, alleging that its Claude 2 model reproduced song lyrics almost word-for-word when prompted. According to The Verge, when a user requested a song about the death of Buddy Holly, Claude 2 “created” the lyrics to Don Mclean’s “American Pie.”
Microsoft, itself a 49 percent stakeholder in OpenAI, ran afoul of the famously aggressive Walt Disney Co. legal team when its Bing Image Creator generated fake movie posters that featured the Walt Disney logo. Microsoft promptly acted to prevent the Image Creator from spitting out more Disney-owned material, but questions persist about whether Disney content was copied or used to train the model.
OpenAI and Google both assert that their use of copyrighted material to train AI models qualifies as “fair use” under existing copyright laws, and promise to defend customers who face copyright infringement claims. But as the federal government ponders new regulation and courts affirm that AI-generated material cannot be copyrighted, users should still beware — the offer might be temporary.
Image by Vilius Kukanauskas