If you asked the average person where the most political power is concentrated in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if they said Washington, D.C. Yet, arguably the most influential political capital for public policy, that is the laws and government decisions regulating the economy, the environment and society, is actually not Washington but rather Brussels as the seat of the European Union.
When it comes to things like environmental protection, climate change policy or online data protection, it’s the EU that is widely seen internationally as the global trendsetter. A trendsetter is a person or organisation that starts to do something that others then copy.
In my legal English courses we’ve been discussing the impact of artificial intelligence on the legal profession and specifically copyright law. Copyright, according to the Cambridge online English dictionary, consists of “the legal right to control the production and selling of a book, play, film, photograph or piece of music”. A major controversy surrounding large language models like ChatGPT and text-to-image generators like Midjourney is that they are trained on text and images online that are subject to copyright. This process is referred to as scraping, that is, extracting data from websites to build AI platforms.
The recent Reuters article “EU proposes new copyright rules for generative AI” explains how the European Parliament has been working on an AI Act for the past two years. An act is a law that has been officially accepted by Parliament or Congress. Now, in recent weeks EU lawmakers have added a provision related to scraping. A provision is a statement within an agreement or a law that a particular thing must happen or be done, especially before another can happen or be done. Now, this proposed provision will require companies to disclose whatever copyrighted material they use to train their AI systems. If you disclose something you make something publicly known, especially after it has been kept secret.
A competing proposal was to ban the practice of scraping, but in the end only disclosure will be required. According to Reuters, business analysts see this as a positive development for businesses because it won’t stifle innovation. If you stifle something, you prevent it from happening, being expressed or continuing.
Right now we’re in a legal vacuum, that is, a legal context in which the law is either unclear or non-existent, so this new disclosure requirement seems like an improvement. Still, disclosure does not mean these copyright holders whose works have been scraped will necessarily be given any financial compensation for the AI systems they have helped build.
In other words, this new legislation will be cold comfort for writers and artists around the world. We say that something is cold comfort when you tell someone something slightly positive to someone who is feeling very bad about a situation and it doesn’t make them feel any better. In this case, the new disclosure provision is a positive development but may not actually be of any financial benefit to copyright holders.
That being said, I may be making things sound bleaker than they actually are. A bleak situation is a hopeless situation. According to an article in the Verge, once companies are made to disclose their training data it will make it much easier to take them to court for copyright violation. As the article points out, Getty Images has already initiated a lawsuit against image-generating AI platforms that have scraped stock photos owned by Getty Images.
But what about individual creators who can’t afford legal representation? I highly recommend a video from the YouTube channel ColdFusion, which as with all the other resources I mention, is linked in the show notes. It gives an excellent overview of this whole topic and gives some examples of how artists’ livelihoods are being threatened. One such example is Kelly McKernan, whose unusual style has been successfully replicated by users of Midjourney. As a result it’s much harder for her to make a living from her art.
Given how lucrative, that is profitable, AI is going to be, it seems almost criminal for these AI platforms not to share the spoils. If you share the spoils you share the goods, advantages or profits obtained by winning a war or being in a particular position or situation. But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? I always love hearing from my listeners so don’t hesitate to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you thought of this or any other episode.
Now, let’s go over today’s vocabulary. This week rather than read a definition and example sentence for each item of vocabulary I’ll only read out the definition. To gamify things and make them more fun, the model sentences will be at the end of the show notes at EthosEnglish.com/podcast in the form of a matching activity. Check it out and let me know what you think!
public policy: a government policy that affects everyone in a country or state, or these policies in general
trendsetter: A trendsetter is a person or organisation that starts to do something that others then copy, often associated with fashion.
be subject to copyright: if a work of art is subject to copyright, copyright applies to that work and you must respect the restrictions resulting from that right
act: a law that has been officially accepted by Parliament or Congress
provision: a statement within an agreement or a law that a particular thing must happen or be done, especially before another can happen or be done
disclose: make something publicly known, especially after it has been kept secret
disclosure: the act of disclosing something
stifle: if you are stifled by something, it stops you breathing comfortably, synonym – suffocate
by analogy stop something from happening or developing, such as innovation or debate
a legal vacuum: a legal context in which the law is either unclear or non-existent
be cold comfort for someone: When being told a particular thing about a bad situation is cold comfort, it does not make you feel better although it is intended to.
bleak: If a situation is bleak, there is little or no hope for the future.
livelihood: the way you earn money in order to live
lucrative: a job or activity that is lucrative lets you earn a lot of money, synonym – profitable
share the spoils: share goods, advantages or profits obtained by winning a war or being in a particular position or situation