For every author who is ranting against the “threat” of AI there is another actively embracing its possibilities.
“Generative AI Copyright lawsuits likely won’t yield results for creative workers any time soon.”
That’s the view of Josh O’Kane at Canada’s The Globe and Mail, who sums up the current race to be the first to (almost certainly) lose the case against AI companies using published works without express permission and without remuneration.
In that respect O’Kane seems to be in keeping with most rational sentiments about this topic. That there may be some borderline copyright infringement in some instances, but that broadly the AI companies are doing little, if anything, that is currently illegal.
Meanwhile Lauren Brown over at The Bookseller reports on the UK’s Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) announcement that it has put together a training package for its members, that will explore AI’s potential as well as try identify the undeniable downsides AI presents to publishers. The aim being to “equip independent publishers with the knowledge and skills they need to harness the power of AI-driven technology”.
George Walkley will deliver the training sessions, beginning early October. Per The Bookseller, Walkley explained:
“Generative AI is a fast-moving area of technology that offers enormous potential for publishers, but also real risks. The business, technical and ethical issues it raises have dominated discussion this year, and the IPG has been characteristically forward thinking in identifying the need for training in this area.”
IPG CEO Bridget Shine added: “Like our members, we’re both excited by the potential of AI and conscious of its threats and pitfalls, and this new package will give publishers the know-how and tools to approach both with confidence.”
Brown reminds us that Pan Macmillan and Bonnier Books UK are among publishers who have made a conscious decision not to publish AI-generated books, reflecting a worryingly Luddite mood among traditional publishers who as so often are more interested in defending the status quo than taking the industry forward.
At which point to return to the Globe and Mail post that I began this essay with, because tagged on the end of that post is this little gem O’Kane picked up from Sean Michaels. In O’Kane’s own words:
…For future generations of authors, it may be beneficial to give AI regulations some breathing room, says Sean Michaels, the Giller Prize winner for his 2014 book Us Conductors. He used generative AI in putting together his latest novel, Do You Remember Being Born?, which examines the relationship between art and AI and will be published in September.
He likens the current conversation to the one around music sampling in the early nineties – which ended with strict copyright rules and has for years impeded the art of sampling, particularly in hip hop.
I always think it’s a good idea for independent artists to demand as much compensation as possible from big corporations,” Michaels said in an e-mail. But “the challenge is how to navigate the need to defend our livelihoods alongside the debt we owe our kids – who will dream up masterpieces, travesties and entire new genres using all the tools we don’t like, don’t get, and would sooner see abolished.”
This goes to the heart of my concerns about the Luddite element in the current mostly-kneejerk reaction to AI developments in the publishing sector. That we are so busy worrying about our own personal short-term future that we lose sight of what benefits these developments will bring us in the medium term, and will bring the next generation in the long-term.
Show me the AI-protesting author who is still using a typewriter rather than a word processor, and who posts their manuscripts rather than email them, because they cared about jobs lost in related industries. Show me the successful author who didn’t train themselves to write and then hone their skills by reading books by other authors. Show me the opponent of book-streaming platforms who is not subscribed to Prime, Netflix or Disney+.
AI has yet to be proven to have taken any author’s job, and when it comes to book authors we are in challenging territory to claim otherwise, because as a rule we are self-employed, not salaried. Our career is only as good as our next book and our backlist. We compete against one another for shelf-space and reader eyeballs, and none of us are thinking, “I’ll write fewer books this year to give other authors a chance.”
For every author who is ranting against the “threat” of AI there is another actively embracing its possibilities. Jane Friedman, in the most recent Hot Sheet, has a guest item from Emily Wenstrom looking at how AI can help authors write their next book.
In Friedman’s words: “Generative AI remains a controversial topic with many unanswered legal questions. Even so, writers are using these tools now and they will use them in the future. That you can be sure of.”
The bottom line is, across the publishing industry, the winners will be those who see the opportunity in AI and start training themselves now to ride the wave ahead. Just like (with apologies to those young enough to not know what a typewriter is) those who saw the potential of word processing when most of us were wedded to our beloved Underwood, Remington or Smith-Corona and could/would not find the time to learn the “new technology”.
Yet we have the Luddites at Pan Macmillan and Bonnier UK (SEE CORRECTION BELOW) issuing directives not to publish AI-generated books, as if somehow this will benefit the industry.
It benefits no-one. If a book is good enough to publish, publish it! It doesn’t matter who or what wrote it. Consumers don’t give a flying fig how a book was written, who or what wrote it, who published it, or who benefits or loses. What they want is content they will enjoy or find useful, at a price they can afford.
And to publishers who dress up their latest bout of Luddism as trying to protect author interests, I would ask, so why are your profits so high and your royalties so low?
What we see happening at the moment on Amazon and similar platforms where low-quality AI-generated dross is being pumped out by scammers (and no doubt by some well-intentioned wannabe authors who don’t have the experience or expertise to know better), and these knee-jerk legal class actions that rely more on self-preservation instinct and lucrative legal fees than law, should not be allowed to determine how the AI publishing debate evolves.
We owe it to the next generation of readers, authors and publishers to make sure AI’s full publishing industry potential is explored.
UPDATE: Bonnier UK assure me they said no such thing, and that the blame lies with The Bookseller for mis-reporting their position.