ChatGPT – Use with Care

by Intellectual Property Attorney Bill Honaker, the IP Guy

ChatGPT is all over the news. Pundits review it in awe; it’s either an amazing new tool that will revolutionize the world, or a potential evil that will change everything for the worse. It’s been reported that it will displace knowledge workers. It can write articles in seconds, write, debug and explain computer code, and create original stories in the style of Hemingway or Shakespeare, and in multiple languages. Other AI systems can create artwork from prompts (“Zarya of the Dawn”), have a singer virtually perform another singer’s music (Rihanna AI generated cover of Beyonce’s “Cuff It”) and have singers appear to sing a new song they’ve never actually sung. (AI generated Drake and The Weeknd sing, “Heart on my Sleeve”).

ChatGPT is an AI language model that has the ability to generate all of this, and more, based upon prompts the user inputs. I typed the prompt, “give me a 700-word article on the copyright infringement issues, related to ChatGPT.” In seconds, I was presented with an article. It was an interesting article, written with authority, and sounded pretty good, and it was mostly wrong. If you weren’t an expert, you wouldn’t know how wrong it was. I also asked for my biography, which it created in seconds. It was correct about me being a lawyer and an engineer, but wrong on where I went to school, where I worked, and awards I had received. Bard, a similar AI from Google, was asked for a great place to visit in New Hampshire, and it created a city that doesn’t exist, along with fictitious attractions and restaurants. It was also asked about inflation, and Bard recommended several books that were never written. The developers of AI call these Hallucinations.

Caution 1 – Don’t expect the results to be accurate. I have found that the results are just close enough to appear correct, but aren’t. For example, the ChatGPT article suggested that ChatGPT programmers would own the copyright to any output. Sounds plausible, but its wrong. Only humans can own copyrights. An article generated by prompts given to ChatGPT has no copyright, and is owned by no one. On March 16, 2023, the US copyright office issued guidelines making this clear.

Caution 2 – Since material generated by ChatGPT is unlikely to be protected by copyright, it’s free for anyone to use. I say not likely because it depends on how it was generated, edited and arranged. As noted above, the copyright office refused copyright protection for images in a children’s book that were created by AI. Another AI generated work “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” was refused protection, and the applicant Stephen Thaler, sued the Copyright Office in Federal Court to force its registration. That case is pending.

Caution 3 – You might get sued for copyright infringement. ChatGPT is trained on human-generated text, so your results may be similar to, or the same as existing text, and that will set off the plagiarism detectors. This could be embarrassing at best, or at worst, a lawsuit for copyright infringement. I ran my AI article through a couple of plagiarism sites. One said it was likely plagiarized, and another indicated no plagiarism. The fact that one showed plagiarism was enough to cause me concern about using the AI-generated content.

Caution 4 – You could lose confidential information. Samsung just experienced this. Two different programmers loaded confidential computer code into the prompt to help solve a problem. Another employee loaded a recorded confidential meeting to create meeting minutes. These now will become part of ChatGPT’s learning library; clearly not where you want your corporate trade secrets to be disclosed. Valuable trade secrets may have been lost using ChatGPT. It’s unclear if this  information can be accessed, or whether it will appear in future responses to prompts.

The Takeaway

ChatGPT may be a dream or a nightmare. Its development will be fascinating. What is certain is that you must exercise care in its use. Business owners must create new process policies around its application. You can’t rely on what it reports, it hallucinates. Anything generated needs to be reworked for accuracy, changed enough to avoid infringement of others’ works, and edited to give you the potential for copyright protection. Avoid using prompts that contain confidential information. It’s likely that such actions will result in the loss of your trade secrets. Overall it’s fun to experiment with this new technology, but be careful when you use it.


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