In a nutshell

  • ChatGPT functions as a language processing tool based on AI technology. It generates content by mimicking patterns and information from publicly available text and knowledge.
  • ChatGPT cannot steal human emotions or experiences and relies on existing data, so while it may replicate content, it lacks human creativity and intuition.
  • Content creators still retain the rights to their original work.

Who would have thought we would worry about artificial intelligence (AI) stealing our ideas? And that’s no joke because a class action lawsuit was filed on September 19th, 2023, by famous authors such as George R.R. Martin, John Grisham and Jodi Picoult against Open Al. The lawsuit claims that the generative Al is “systematic theft on a mass scale.” Creating original content is not easy, so the fear that a machine will easily “steal” or “replicate” your content is warranted. So, is ChatGPT stealing your ideas? Can it create better original content than you if that is the case? Let’s discuss

What is ChatGPT, and how does it function?

ChatGPT is a language processing tool driven by AI technology. It can answer questions, create code, create Al art and much more. It attempts to interact conversationally by pulling information from publicly available text and knowledge. The Al is trained on vast amounts of data from uploaded photos, reviews, questions from Reddit or any other public online content. It learns language structure, facts, reasoning patterns and “creativity” from data. 

This essentially means that ChatGPT doesn’t think. It mimics creativity based on training data acquired by a text generation mechanism that analyzes input prompts, token-by-token. Then, it predicts the next token based on the preceding one. 

The Al technologies rely on the free public user-generated content they can scrap from the web. This means that if the original content does not exist, ChatGPT will not create it independently.

Can ChatGPT steal your ideas? 

Since ChatGPT relies on existing data, it will not create original ideas but generate content based on past data. In the past, ChatGPT could only access data before September 2021. But now, ChatGPT can scrape the internet for current information. So, suppose your work was published, and let’s say that ChatGPT decides to use all your content without your permission, without knowing when the content was scrapped and without paying for your content. Then, it generates an article from your content. So, in some sense, ChatGPT could be stealing or copying your ideas. It depends on the amount of data the Al processes from your original content and how much it outputs from that content.

One thing, though, is that the content you make remains your intellectual property. Even if ChatGPT pulls from your content, the output of generative Al is not copyrightable and you have the right to your original content. In the United States, United States District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled that AI-generated content and works cannot be copyrighted if it’s solely created by AI.

So, while it’s possible for ChatGPT to scrape your work, if it’s a direct copy or a slight variation of your work, you still own the rights to the work.

Although AI-generated content isn’t copyrightable, there’s still a legal battle over whether OpenAI is breaking copyright and fair use laws. In December, The New York Times sued ChatGPT for multiple reasons, one of them being on the issue of plagiarism. The New York Times claims that ChatGPT generated nearly identical articles to some of its articles. OpenAI and Microsoft responded by saying that the claims are “without merit,” claiming the publication “either instructed the model to regurgitate or cherry-picked their examples from many attempts.”

At this point, it’s unclear if ChatGPT will end up winning its lawsuits or not. As the Associated Press points out, the decision will rest on whether OpenAI’s use of copyrighted material falls under “fair use,” which protects the use of copyrighted material if it’s transformed into something new.

ChatGPT cannot “steal” human emotions and experiences

As a society, we’re still answering the legal question of whether ChatGPT can and is stealing your work. Since ChatGPT doesn’t have the capability to formulate its own thoughts, it begs the question: Can ChatGPT actually change a work enough for it to fall under fair use? We will get an answer, hopefully, in the coming months and years.

As for the broader answer for whether ChatGPT can steal your ideas, ChatGPT can never possess the same human creativity or experience that we have. To give you a straightforward example, ChatGPT will never be able to write an autobiography of your life experiences the way you will write it. Even if you are famous, with vast information about you on the web, ChatGPT can only generate content from the data it scraps from the internet. Your emotions, your struggles, your life experiences and your unique thoughts and opinions are yours, and AI can never take those from you.