News Corp’s OpenAI deal puts publisher on ‘cutting edge of digital age,’ CEO Robert Thomson says (2024)

News Corp’s landmark partnership with OpenAI ensures The Post’s parent company will be at the “cutting edge of the digital age” during a time of major upheaval across the news industry, CEO Robert Thomson said in a memo to staffers.

The publishing giant’s deal with OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman, announced in May, allows the ChatGPT creator to use current and archived content produced by News Corp-owned outlets — which also include The Wall Street Journal, The Sun and The Times of London — to answer user questions and train its AI models.

The deal marks an “important moment to recalibrate the world of search” long dominated by Google — and puts News Corp in position to benefit from the rise of AI rather than “dancing with digital demise,” according to Thomson.

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“Provenance deserves prominence. Having a role in fashioning the future is definitely preferable to being a prisoner of the past,” Thomson said. “[Generative] AI is a threat, a real threat to journalism. Its ability to mimic and manipulate is endless. We are at a particularly early stage of its evolution, and it is an exponentially expedited evolution.”

Plunging traffic and ad revenue has led to mass layoffs and newsroom closures, with outlets like The Messenger, Vice and Buzzfeed among those affected.

While Big Tech’s increased influence is partly to blame, Thomson noted that the media industry has been slow to recognize the impact of AI and the “irrepressible ascendancy of the mobile phone as a content canvas.”

“You will no doubt recall the narrative that traditional media was somehow fundamentally, fatally flawed, and that the cyber savvy digital natives would somehow emerge triumphant and dance on our digital graves,” Thomson said. “Well, Deadspin is now just Dead, Buzzfeed is, well, bustfeed. The Messenger launched with much fanfare and failed within months, Vice has imploded, and Pitchfork was skewered.”

The OpenAI deal will allow News Corp to demonstrate the importance its original work while also granting access to technology that could benefit everything from news distribution to customer service, marketing and advertising, Thomson said.

The five-year deal could be worth more than $250 million in cash and credits for the use of OpenAI technology, the Wall Street Journal reported in May.

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Google and other AI giants have faced intense criticism for using copyrighted content to train their AI chatbots without proper credit or permission – and then using those same chatbots to compete with publishers for traffic.

Big Tech’s control over the flow of information has “undermined the viability of creation and actually led to the proliferation of tawdry, third-rate click bait,” Thomson said.

“Our problem is already two-fold: pirate sites – or better, parasites – are alreadyrepurposing our content, and there is a mass synthesising of our work without attribution and with serious consequences,” he added. “From an IP perspective, it is synthesising spelled s-i-n, and scurrilous snippets are the unkindest cut.”

More recently, Google took the controversial step of adding AI-generated summaries to search results while demoting links to other outlets – a move that represents a potential death blow to the news industry, as The Post has reported.

While Google CEO Sundar Pichai has recently displayed an “admirable and tangible commitment to news,” the company’s dominance of the online search market has nevertheless had a destructive effect on publishers over the long term, according to Thomson.

“We know two things: the importance of Google and, secondly, how inequitable, how unfair and how blatantly biased Google search can be,” Thomson said. “Our scoops are usurped by content counterfeiters whose rip-off rewrites are then given higher placements. And then there are the political prejudices that are built into the search parameters.”

In crafting the deal with OpenAI, News Corp’s legal team sought assurances “around providing guardrails to protect our content, to provide clear sources links and to prevent the pillage that is already commonplace,” Thomson added.

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Other publishers have opted to file lawsuits against AI firms to protect their work. Last December, the New York Times filed a sweeping federal copyright infringement lawsuit against OpenAI.

Thomson noted that such lawsuits are risky and could take years to reach a conclusion – leaving businesses to potentially major financial losses while the court battles play out.

“If the New York Times loses, and I have concerns about their long-term chances, then they have completely changed the definition of “fair use” for every publisher and done so detrimentally,” Thomson said.

At the same time, the News Corp boss didn’t rule out the possibility of legal action against other AI players if talks on fair compensation fall flat.

Thomson said the firm is “working with European publishers and various other people that I can’t identify, and we certainly have a couple of folks in our legal sights.”

“We would prefer to woo rather than sue, given that lawyers are the big winners in litigation,” he added. “But, be warned, if we don’t woo you, we may very well sue you.”

News Corp’s OpenAI deal puts publisher on ‘cutting edge of digital age,’ CEO Robert Thomson says (2024)
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