Artificial intelligence cybernetic circuit brain inside

Can Content Licensing Be a Solution in the GenAI Era?

Yes! But time is of the essence.

The financial future of publishers and other creators is at risk as generative Artificial Intelligence (genAI) tools expand. Content licensing has an increasingly critical role in protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights and revenues of the content owners whose work is stolen to give life to this technology. Now is the time to push back.

For publishers across the spectrum from real-time news sites to magazines, academic journals, and book publishers, OpenAI’s release of its genAI tool ChatGPT into the hands of the public to use for “free” was a watershed moment.

The message going out from the media, popular influencers, and industry thought leaders was that anyone can write like Charles Dickens, paint (digitally) like Picasso, compose poetry like Maya Angelou, create business plans like a Harvard MBA professor, and get complete answers to complex questions without sifting through pages of search results—which would otherwise draw traffic to the content creator.

But genAI systems are not the machines with human brains depicted in science fiction. They “learn” how to assemble answers or generate content by uncovering patterns from billions or trillions of instances of pre-existing content, and this “training data” is protected by copyright.

Let’s Learn from the Past, Not Repeat It

In the first generation of the internet, technology influencers cried out that information “wanted to be free” and widely shared for the “greater good.” Many publishers crashed and burned as they followed that philosophy during the years it took for content owners to claw back revenue from that first disruption.

We can’t make the same mistake again! Content owners must stand up now to prevent the permanent devaluation of their protected intellectual property (IP). Licensing is a linchpin in that effort.

Back at the turn of the century, Google and other search engines used bots to index news, magazine, B2B media, and other publishers’ websites. The unwritten agreement was that people would be directed to the content owners’ sites, where rights-holders could make money through advertising and/or subscription revenue.

When AI bots ingest content for “training,” the deal is different. AI companies extract content from creators’ sites, aggregate it, and use AI to generate a result that neither credits nor compensates the owner of the content that was used to produce the result. The user is no longer directed to the publisher’s site, and the content owner loses the opportunity to earn revenue from the traffic.

This new model requires new rules, and industry organizations are starting to take action. Meanwhile, individual companies are making their own deals. For example, the Associated Press made a content licensing agreement with genAI leader OpenAI.

On September 6th, 26 organizations across the globe representing the news, entertainment, magazine and book publishing, and academic publishing sectors took an unprecedented step toward protecting content rights by issuing “The Global Principles for Artificial Intelligence.” Creative Licensing International (CLI) is a member of one of those organizations, FIPP. (Read the FIPP press release on the Principles here.)

Separately, the U.S. Copyright Office, the federal institution that oversees the protection of the rights of content owners, recently announced that it is “undertaking a study of the copyright law and policy issues raised by generative AI and is assessing whether legislative or regulatory steps are warranted.”

CLI Position on Generative AI

Creative Licensing International has a vested interest in and a firm position when it comes to genAI and the rights of content owners.

As a company, we have been helping our clients maximize revenue and profit from content licensing, as well as managing the logistics involved, for nine years — and our personal experience goes back decades before that. We are driven to support content licensing because publishers’ content has value, from its first publication to the end of its lifecycle. And licensing content extends that lifecycle far beyond what most publishers can imagine.

At a time when the financial underpinnings of publishing are under threat from genAI, content licensing has an expanded, critical role in protecting the rights and revenues of the content owners whose work gives life to this technology, as well as ensuring their ability to monetize secondary uses — where publishers generate new revenue at almost pure profit.

In our new Content Licensing Brief, we will be sending stories, interviews, and commentary on this fast-changing topic, among other critical issues in our business, twice monthly. If you haven’t already, sign up here.