New York Times’ AI Lawsuit Could be “First of Many This Year”

Dan Meier 09 January, 2024 

More publishers will be forced to seek compensation from AI businesses this year, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), as AI firms face mounting pressure over potential copyright infringement for the news content generated by their models.

The research centre, based at the University of Oxford, surveyed 314 media leaders in 56 countries for their views on publishing trends across the coming months. Asked about their outlook for journalism in the year ahead, 47 percent of respondents said they are confident about the industry’s prospects, with 41 percent uncertain, and 12 percent not confident.

In terms of revenue strategies, 80 percent of respondents will continue to invest in subscription and membership models, which they consider a more important revenue stream than native and display advertising. Video content is also a key investment area in 2024, with 64 percent of publishers planning to create more video this year.

The social factor

The ‘Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2024’ report points to two social media trends: the decline of “traditional” social networks, such as Facebook and X, largely caused by the toxic nature of political discourse; and the rise of video-based networks, such as YouTube and TikTok, “where the social aspects are important but often secondary.”

RISJ notes that these platforms are where younger audiences access their news, which poses a challenge for publishers, “partly because video is not their natural skillset.” Nevertheless, 55 percent of publishers are planning further investment in TikTok content, and 44 percent in YouTube, according to the survey. RISJ predicts that vertical video could become the default format as a result of this push on TikTok and YouTube Shorts, with publishers increasingly bringing these techniques to their own websites and apps.

The trend for publishers pulling back from Facebook and X is not so much a matter of declining user bases as the deprioritastion of news on those platforms. According to publisher data firm Chartbeat, referral traffic to news and media properties from Facebook declined by 48 percent in 2023. Traffic from X was also down by 27 percent, and Instagram by 10 percent. The report cites this trend as a major factor in the closure or downsizing of major digital brands, such as Buzzfeed News and Vice News.

Searching for traffic

Search referrals are also set for a similar drop as AI becomes integrated into search engines, according to the report. Google and Microsoft’s use of Search Generative Experiences (SGE), which answer queries directly rather than surfacing links to websites, is likely to further deplete news traffic.

Meanwhile, AI businesses that train their systems on publisher content will face mounting legal pressure. RISJ predicts that publishers will be forced to seek compensation for lost traffic and revenues, citing the New York Times’ lawsuit against OpenAI as “the first of many this year.”

And while publishers seek licensing deals with AI companies, along the lines of the agreement between Axel Springer and OpenAI, the survey offered little hope that these deals would be equitable. According to the findings, 35 percent of publishers felt that only a few big media companies would benefit from these AI agreements, while 48 percent suggested there would be little money for any publisher.

Navigating AI

As for publishers’ own use of AI, 56 percent said the technology would be most useful in back-end automation tasks, such as transcription and copy editing. Respondents were less inclined to use AI for content creation, with 56 percent identifying the reputational risk associated with AI-generated content.

The report highlighted the risk of AI-generated imagery in spreading misinformation, with major elections due in more than 40 countries this year. Most publishers agreed that AI will further diminish the public’s trust in news.

“Forward-thinking news organisations will be looking to build unique content and experiences that can’t be easily replicated by AI,” said Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at RISJ. “These might include curating live news, deep analysis, human experiences that build connection, as well as longer audio and video formats that might be more defensible than text.”

“But they’ll also be focused on using AI technologies to make their businesses more efficient in an increasingly difficult economic climate,” Newman continued. “At the same time, they will be working to package and distribute content in a way that makes journalism more relevant for different audiences, helping to address issues such as low engagement and selective news avoidance.”

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