Microsoft CEO of AI Says It's Fine to Steal Anything on the Open Web


Microsoft AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman has some thoughts about fair use: that pretty much anything online is fair for big tech to use, actually!

During an interview with CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin last week, Suleyman was asked whether AI companies "have effectively stolen the world's IP" in order to train their endlessly data-hungry AI models. It's a fair question; if you've published anything to the internet, or had any of your work or personal material digitized and posted somewhere, it's probably in an AI model. But while some institutions — take The New York Times versus Microsoft and OpenAI — and individuals have argued that AI companies' practice of mass web-scraping without consent or compensation has gone well beyond what can be justified under fair use, Suleyman expressed a decidedly maximalist approach to the concept of Other People's Digital Stuff.

"I think that with respect to content that's already on the open web, the social contract of that content since the '90s has been that it is fair use," Suleyman told Sorkin. "Anyone can copy it, recreate with it, reproduce with it. That has been 'freeware,' if you like, that’s been the understanding."

Of course, as The Verge points out, the US grants copyright protections the moment that a work is created. And as for the AI chief's "social contract," it's certainly worth noting that, up until November 2022, most people posting online didn't imagine that their pictures and videos, musings, and general creative, intellectual, personal, or otherwise output would become AI training materials.

According to Suleyman, though? It's all just "freeware." Intellectual property who?

Diss Content

Suleyman conceded that websites or publishers that actively block web crawlers from scraping their content exist in a "separate category." Still, he argued, it's all a "gray area."

If a "website, or a publisher, or a news organization had explicitly said 'do not scrape or crawl me for any other reason than indexing me so that other people can find this content,'" Suleyman told Sorkin, "that's a gray area, and I think it's going to work its way through the courts."

If a website is blocking someone from scraping what's already copyright-protected material, it's hard to see how without permission or consent would be ambiguous. But to that end, when taken in full, Suleyman's statements about copyrighted material are less legal arguments than they are ideological ones.

Indeed, regardless of whether the law protects your work, many folks within the AI community have shown time and again that they believe they're entitled to it nonetheless. And few things may underscore this attitude more than yet another comment Suleyman made in his conversation with Sorkin.

"What are we, collectively, as an organism of humans," the AI executive pondered, "other than a knowledge and intellectual production engine?"

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