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AI: Avaricious Intelligence

Across more than 40 years, as a writer, visual artist, editor and administrator, I have been dealing directly, and around the edges, of issues surrounding artists’ copyright. On one occasion it has involved threat of legal action—but very often it has involved the sometimes tedious complications of giving permissions and negotiating royalty payments. Much of that work has involved the Copyright Agency and occasionally the Australian Performing Rights Association.

Generally speaking, intellectual law in Australia is pretty reasonable, and over the years has been able to respond quite well to new technologies such as photocopying and blank audio tapes and CDs.

Since the early 1980s, Aboriginal art centres—initially through ANKAAA, now through Desart and ANKA—have played a critical role in monitoring copyright breaches and forged work.

But the creative industries are now facing extraordinary challenges through Artificial  Intelligence—AI. As reported over the past week, potentially thousands of Australian writers have had their work illicitly copied by US-based Books3 dataset to train generative AI. Australian writer Richard Flanagan has described it as “the biggest act of copyright theft in history”.

“I felt as if my soul had been strip mined and I was powerless to stop it,” he said in a statement to The Guardian.

According to the Australian Publishers Association, as many as 18,000 Australian fiction and non-fiction books have had copyright breaches though the Books3 data set.

Describing it as a “clear threat to Australian writing” the Australian Writers Guild (AWG) has responded with a call for “the implementation of unambiguous guidelines and robust legislation to provide strong protections for the creative sectors in Australia”.

“The AWG’s paper proposes a comprehensive framework for regulating AI in order to safeguard authorial control, ensure fair remuneration, protect moral rights, safeguard First Nations cultural assets, classify content appropriately, allow player opt-in, and address concerns related to gambling and in-app purchases in video games.”

NT Writer’s’ Centre chairperson Sally Bothroyd, a member of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), is deeply concerned at the potential loss of “human creativity”.

“Authors’ guilds around the world are raising awareness of the potential impact AI will have on the creative writing industry and community. As the ASA points out, the unauthorised and uncompensated use of creative works to train AI is an ‘industrial scale appropriation.

“We must push for legislators to value human creativity.”

So what might this mean for NT writers? As Red Kangaroo Books has argued in its newsletter, central Australia has the highest per capita cohort of writers in Australia—so the effect of AI could be significant for our writers in the NT. It could potentially rob our writers of copyright income, as well as diminishing their markets for new—original—work.

And it is still unclear whether Australian copyright law will be capable of protecting writers’ rights.

Its effect could potentially be devastating for our writers.

Artificial Intelligence? More like Avaricious Intelligence, at the expense of our writers and artists.

Chips Mackinolty