Nonprofit News Org Sues OpenAI, Microsoft for 'Exploitative' Copyright Infringement

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, and its primary business partner, Microsoft. This lawsuit represents a significant escalation in the news industry's ongoing battle against the unauthorized use of its content by AI platforms.

CIR, the nonprofit behind Mother Jones and Reveal, claims that OpenAI used its content without permission or compensation, infringing on the organization's copyrights. Filed in a federal court in New York, the lawsuit alleges that OpenAI's business model is "built on the exploitation of copyrighted works" and highlights how AI-generated article summaries pose a threat to publishers.

"It's immensely dangerous," Monika Bauerlein, CEO of CIR, told The Associated Press. "Our existence relies on users finding our work valuable and deciding to support it."

Bauerlein emphasized the importance of the relationship between readers and CIR's work. "When people can no longer develop that relationship with our work, when they no longer encounter Mother Jones or Reveal, then their relationship is with the AI tool," she said. This shift, Bauerlein warned, could undermine the very foundation of CIR and other independent newsrooms.

OpenAI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to Pure AI's email requests for comment on Thursday.

This lawsuit adds to the growing number of copyright cases OpenAI and Microsoft are facing in Manhattan's federal court. These include lawsuits from The New York Times, other media outlets, and bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, and George R.R. Martin. Additionally, a separate case has been brought against the companies in San Francisco's federal court by authors including comedian Sarah Silverman.

Some news organizations have opted to collaborate with OpenAI by signing compensation agreements for sharing news content used to train its AI systems. The latest to do so is Time, which announced today that OpenAI would gain access to its archives spanning more than a century.

"Throughout our 101-year history, Time has embraced innovation to ensure that the delivery of our trusted journalism evolves alongside technology," Time Chief Operating Officer Mark Howard said in a statement. "This partnership with OpenAI advances our mission to expand access to trusted information globally as we continue to embrace innovative new ways of bringing Time’s journalism to audiences globally."

While OpenAI and other major AI developers often do not disclose their data sources, they argue that using large amounts of publicly accessible online text, images, and other media to train AI systems falls under the "fair use" doctrine of American copyright law. CIR's lawsuit, however, states that a dataset acknowledged by OpenAI to have been used for building an earlier version of its chatbot technology contained thousands of links to Mother Jones's website. Notably, the text used for AI training often lacked information about the story's author, title, or copyright notice.

Last summer, more than 4,000 writers signed a letter to the CEOs of OpenAI and other tech companies, accusing them of exploitative practices in building chatbots.

"It's not a free resource for these AI companies to ingest and make money on," Bauerlein said, referring to news media content. "They pay for office space, they pay for electricity, they pay salaries for their workers. Why would the content that they ingest be the only thing that they don't pay for?"

Over the past year, several news organizations, including The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post publisher News Corp., The Atlantic, Axel Springer in Germany, Prisa Media in Spain, France's Le Monde, and the Financial Times in London, have entered licensing agreements with OpenAI.

Founded in the 1970s, Mother Jones and CIR merged earlier this year, both operating from San Francisco, the same city where OpenAI is based.

The CIR lawsuit, which also covers its Reveal podcast and radio show, details the high costs of producing investigative journalism and warns that losing control of copyrighted content will lead to reduced revenue and fewer reporters, exacerbating the challenges in today's already strained media landscape.

"With fewer investigative news stories told, the cost to democracy will be enormous," the lawsuit states.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at