Sudowrite is intended to be used as a writer’s assistant; Authors enter sentences that cause them trouble or scenes they’re working on, and the AI offers a few lines to help guide them on where they might go next. Prior to the Reddit post, Yu had no idea what the Omegaverse was. Now his own system was offering advice on how to write obscenities about it.
Fanfiction writers, just like journalism, television, or movie writers, were not happy to discover that their work was being used to train these systems. “This is particularly concerning as many for-profit AI writers like Sudowrite, WriteSonic, and others used GPT-3,” the original Reddit author wrote in an email to the Archive of Our Own communications team, shared in the thread “These AI apps take the jobs we create for fun and fandom, not just to make a profit, but to one day replace human writing.”
Yu is aware of this complaint. “I would love if there was a simple way to fairly compensate for the content that was used to train GPT-3, but unfortunately, OpenAI doesn’t offer any mechanism for that,” she says. “If someone (OpenAI? Google?) offered this, we would try it right away.” For now, she believes that Sudowrite’s value to writers outweighs the damage. “We’re one of the few AI platforms that specifically caters to fiction writers,” he says, adding that when there’s a better model that has optional features and potential pay for people’s work, “we’ll be in a good position to switch to it, and this is something we would promote a lot among our user base to raise awareness.”
But that doesn’t convince many writers who feel their work is being used against their will to enrich tech companies. Compared to Google and OpenAI, Sudowrite is a small potato, but they still have raised $3 million in seed funding.
As far as writers are concerned, it’s not enough for a place like Sudowrite to wait for another, larger company to fix what they consider to be fundamental and unethical flaws in the system. In the comments on the Reddit post, one user said, “God I hate AI so much on so many different levels.” Others shared tips on how to make their fan works private. “I never liked the idea of hiding my work, but that’s why I restricted everything I wrote so that only registered users can see it,” wrote another.
“It kind of takes the heart out of it,” says Kreuger. “Many creators use fanfiction to explore difficult topics that are personal to them and their life experiences as a way to express themselves on these topics. Even if it’s just smut, just smut, there’s a human element there and it’s someone creating something for their enjoyment and wanting to share that hard work with people. It’s stealing that from people.”
This is the same argument made by the WGA: that these systems can use copyrighted (or subject to copyright) works against the will of the authors. This also applies to fanfictions.
Maybe not be made for profit, but fanfiction is eligible for copyright claims. While the writers do not own the content on which these pieces of fiction are based, they do own anything original that they contribute through their work.
“Even things that are highly derivative, if they originated with the author, are considered original,” says Betsy Rosenblatt, a professor at the University of Tulsa School of Law and legal chair of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit organization that oversees Archive of Our Own among other fanwork projects. That includes things like original characters an author added, plot structure, and particular word choices. Therefore, in some situations it is possible to apply for copyright protection for works of fanfiction, although most fanfiction writers do not, either because they do not know how to do it, because they do not want to spend the money, or simply because they don’t want to do it. interested in jumping through hoops.
But for most of the writers I spoke to, it’s not really about copyright, property, or even money. Most fanfiction authors don’t make a living doing this. They do it for the community, for the friends and connections they make. “I have so many friends that I’ve met by participating in events where we create things together,” says Kreuger. And Rosenblatt says that people who aren’t happy with scraping see this as a major problem. To them, it’s not about being deprived of potential income, but rather that someone is making money off of something that he specifically created to be non-commercial.