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News blog27 September 2023European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency3 min read

Ed Sheeran copyright battle ends - Game of Thrones author joins class action lawsuit against OpenAI


Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking out loud” copyright battle is over

News broke a few days ago that the heirs of musician Ed Townsend had withdrawn their appeal against the jury's decision to acquit the British singer accused of plagiarising the song written by Townsend and Gaye in their hit "Thinking out loud". 

The withdrawal of the appeal by Townsend's family marks the end of a legal battle that began in 2017, when the musicians Townsend and Gaye sued Ed Sheeran, accusing him of copying the melody, rhythm and harmony of their song "Let's get it on".

It wasn't until April this year that the jury began deliberations in the Manhattan federal court (we blogged about it here). After a six-day trial, the jury ruled in favour of Sheeran in May, denying that he had copied the song written by Townsend and Gaye. During closing arguments, Sheeran’s lawyer, Ilene Farkas, said the trial should have never happened and that her client had been unfairly accused of copying (we blogged about Sheeran’s victory here).

But what seemed like the end of the story for the British singer, was not. Townsend's heirs, unhappy with the jury’s verdict, appealed the decision.

The surprise came when last Wednesday the court announced that the family of songwriter Ed Townsend would withdraw the appeal with prejudice, which means that it cannot be refiled.

Sheeran's lawyer Ilene Farkas on Thursday said the heirs "recognized that an appeal would end up with the verdict being affirmed but also with them being exposed to legal fees and costs, and wisely withdrew."


Game of Thrones author joins class action lawsuit against OpenAI

American author George R.R. Martin has joined the collective lawsuit against OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT generative artificial intelligence, alleging that his copyright was infringed by the use of his works to train the system, as well as by a "systematic, massive-scale theft" of his literary works.

Alongside Martin, other renowned writers such as Elin Hilderbrand (The Hotel Nantucket), John Grisham (The Pelican Brief), and Jonathan Franzen (Freedom) are part of the lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of New York on September 20th. In it, the plaintiffs argue that their books were used to feed what is known as language models (LLMs), meaning that ChatGPT was trained using their works to enhance its ability to generate content increasingly similar to human writing.

The authors point out that any ChatGPT user can now create versions based on original texts protected by copyright. Specifically, the authors claim that users have been using this tool to write prequels and sequels to R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," a fantasy novel series that inspired the successful "Game of Thrones" TV series. However, Martin has not yet published the last two novels in this series.

OpenAI responded optimistically, stating that the company "respects copyright" and is engaged in constructive discussions with numerous creators worldwide, including the Authors Guild, a writers' union that has filed the lawsuit on behalf of these authors.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs request that the court prohibit OpenAI from using copyrighted works in their LLMs without "express authorization" and seek compensation for damages, including up to $150,000 per work.

However, this is not the only legal challenge that OpenAI is currently facing. In early September, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, along with other authors, had sued OpenAI in a similar case. Additionally, in July, comedian Sarah Silverman and authors Christopher Golden and Richard Kadrey had also taken legal action against OpenAI and Meta for copyright infringement in the training of GPT-4 and Llama 2.

So far, tech companies have argued that their chatbots do not plagiarise artists' works but draw inspiration from them to create original content. In August, OpenAI argued that website owners have the ability to block their web crawler and prevent their content from being used to train their LLMs, as the American newspaper The New York Times did.





Publication date
27 September 2023
European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency