In 2019 Ariana Grande famously agreed to pay a 90% royalty for her unpermitted use of a Rodgers and Hammerstein melody from the hit movieSound of Music. More recently, the entirety of journals published by a researcher were recalled for the lack of proper citations, corrected, and republished to avoid potential conflicts. It is common knowledge that plagiarism, or the use of another person’s intellectual property without their consent, is frowned upon and, in many cases, unlawful. The illegality and scorn of it is irrespective of whether the theft was intentional or accidental, not to mention whether it was damaging. In 2023, as a result of AI-assisted writing, society faces a plagiarism problem as institutions of learning struggle to deal with it.

AI Chatbots and Intellectual Property

When Google opened its metaphorical doors in 1998, it was a search engine that helped users identify informational sources and websites by using specific keywords. Fast forward a few years, and the algorithms and technology are so advanced that the user can simply ask a question of a virtual assistant – no different than asking a friend. The only difference is that your friend likely won’t know the weight of the earth, while the virtual assistant will (6.585 billion trillion tons, in case you were wondering). In the “old days,” search engine research resulted in a listing of source pages that allowed a person to do their own research.

Whether the search engine was looking for the perfect appletini recipe or instructions for sewing a button, the end result led to user-generated content. In the early days of the internet, it was used more for hobbies and fun. Whereas over the last 20 years, the focus has evolved so that many individuals and companies use it as a source of revenue. Let’s be honest; that’s what most blogs, YouTube channels, and forums are intended to do – earn a profit.

ChatGPT and other AI chatbots are the next evolution of the search engine, except the result is not to drive you to a blog about a specific topic but rather to do the work for you. It can do various things, including; composing music, taking tests, writing essays, and performing other tasks that will only increase as it evolves. The end result is an AI-generated product from a research index that will also continue to grow in its scope. The fear is that these AI chatbots will not give proper credit to the sources relied upon. There are already reported instances of a phenomenon called “hallucinations” where the system writes convincing data that may or may not be accurate and may have relied upon fabricated references.

For the publishers and journalists who have invested a lifetime in investigative reporting and creativity, this is tantamount to a license to steal. In the time it took to write this article, an AI chatbot could comb the reporting by various news outlets in the United States and package it as its own content, with rewording that only a computer is capable of achieving on an economic scale. A lifetime of psychological research and knowledge could be replicated in a nanosecond.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

A world in which intellectual property can be stolen faster than it can be created can lead to a stagnant system devoid of new ideas or creativity because there is no incentive to be innovative or inventive. For a person to research a political figure’s personal history delving into yearbooks, and perform in-person interviews, there needs to be compensation of some kind. If the trend continues, mega-cap tech will “borrow” your research and count it as their own intelligence, no matter how artificial it may actually be.

Intellectual property is a source of profit for many an institution, and given the trends in AI, there should be concern that a greater number of people and/or institutions will be able to improperly access others’ intellectual property and use it inappropriately. Intellectual property infringement is a concern that will likely increase as greater amounts of information makes their way into the worldwide web. The potential number of damage cases arising from this technology is staggering, and the effects on businesses from; lost profits, price erosion, unjust enrichment, and the overall decline in value of an entity as a result of the loss of the intangible assets that generated the profits has the potential to be profound.

Contact Us

For more information on this topic, please contact a member of Withum’s Consumer Products Services Team.