During News Corp’s and IAC’s latest earnings calls, the publishers reiterated their anger toward generative AI companies and their scraping of publishers’ content without permission or payment.
Publishers have taken a few different protective measures to protect their content from those companies, from one-off revenue share deals (like the Associated Press’ licensing deal with ChatGPT creator OpenAI) to coalitions negotiating for payments (such as a consortium of publishers led by IAC chairman Barry Diller). And most large publishers are blocking generative AI web crawler bots from scraping their sites for content too.
Media execs revealed during their earnings calls that some of those efforts have been more successful than others.
During News Corp’s recent earnings call with shareholders on Nov. 9, CEO Robert Thomson said he was in “advanced discussions with a range of digital companies that we anticipate will bring significant revenue in return for the use of our unmatched content sets.”
A spokesperson declined to answer Digiday’s questions about which generative AI companies News Corp is negotiating with.
But it does feel like a development, with Thomson alluding to a “significant” amount of money that tech companies will be coughing up to publishers in exchange for using their content. In a previous company earnings call on August 10, Thomson referred to News Corp’s role in a consortium of publishers negotiating with tech companies over the use of their content to power AI engines, led by Diller.
Diller has publicly criticized tech giants Google and Microsoft for putting publishers’ business models at risk by using their content for free to feed their large language models (LLMs), and has called for redefining copyright law and fair use.
But Diller has been talking about these negotiations for the better part of this year, with little indication so far of any progress. The New York Times notably dropped out of the coalition in August and reportedly is exploring legal action against OpenAI to protect its content. News Corp inevitably decided not to be a part of the group as well, The Wall Street Journal reported in July.
Some publishers have decided to strike their own licensing partnerships with generative AI companies. The AP negotiated such a deal with OpenAI in July, wherein OpenAI is paying to license part of AP’s text archive to train its models.
The question remains how long Thomson can tease that News Corp — and the other publishers part of Diller’s coalition — can reach a meaningful deal to protect their intellectual property from tech companies’ LLMs.
But there is a precedent for this. Daniel Kurnos, an internet, broadcasting and media analyst at investment banking firm The Benchmark Company, noted that News Corp has had success in the past with getting payments from big tech firms like Google. In 2021, the companies agreed to a three-year deal that has Google making “significant payments” to the news org to feature its content in Google’s News Showcase product.
And there is recent evidence of traction in the fight against the unhindered use of AI to create content. Just look at the recent Hollywood strikes, which the writers’ and actors’ guilds consider a win.
The Writers Guild of America’s contract requires studios and production companies to disclose to members any AI-generated material, which cannot be used as source material. And AI cannot write or rewrite “literary material.” The SAG-AFTRA tentative deal means members will be able to give their consent and be paid for generative AI used to replicate their likeness. Kurnos called the strikes “the first major attempt to protect content” against the rise of AI.
“Content originators don’t want to get ripped off like they have been by the big search engines,” said Doug Arthur, managing director at media research and advisory firm Huber Research Partners. “In theory, you can’t create workable gen AI [algorithms] without original-human created content as a starting [point and] producers want to protect themselves from inappropriate use of their content and want to get compensation if such ‘generated content’ originates from their content. Seems reasonable.”
When an analyst asked IAC CEO Joey Levin about “defending copyrighted evergreen content” during a company earnings call on Nov. 8, Levin also pushed back against generative AI companies.
“We are going to defend our content. We’ve been clear about that, and I think that there’s one sort of small and relatively straightforward question that needs to be answered that hopefully — if it’s answered in the way we expect it will — we’ll get everybody to the table to get to reasonable conclusions, which is do these platforms have the right to take everybody’s content and transform it and use it for the purpose that they’re using it?” Levin said.
Levin seemed to think the battle would take place in court.
“We think the existing copyright law is pretty clear that they do not have the right to do that, but it will probably take a court to reach that determination, and once that happens, everybody can get together and figure out a solution that works for everybody in the ecosystem and that’s our plan. There’s a number of those suits underway right now, and we expect that there will be a number more of those over time,” Levin said in the earnings call.
Kurnos thought it was anyone’s guess as to whether publishers had enough power in numbers to force generative AI companies to pay up. He said change would likely have to come from government regulation.
“Not to be vague, but who knows,” Kurnos said. “We’ve seen so many back and forths over legislation… that it feels like a true solution needs to come from government rather than from the news outlets themselves. This is an age-old problem that has only worsened with the introduction of AI.”