Don’t Feed the AI Beast

Don’t Feed the AI Beast
Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez / Unsplash

Last week, I asked you all for thoughts about putting all of my writing behind a subscription/paywall. The question stemmed from a 404 Media report about generative AI blatantly plagiarizing their detailed journalism:

Sam’s investigation into the inclusion of child sexual abuse material in the LAION large language model, a hugely important and sensitive story that we ultimately worked on over the course of nearly a year before we even launched, consulted with a lawyer on, and spoke to many experts for, quickly became an article called “They Delete A Database To Train AI Generative Images To Contain Child Sexual Abuse Material” on a website called “Nation World News.” Jason's scoop about a Russian stowaway became “LAX Passenger Arrives on International Flight Without Passport, Visa, Ticket, Report Says” on the Clayton County Register, another site full of AI cloned articles. Emanuel’s lighthearted interview with John Hittler became “The Man With the ‘worst Last Name In Human History’ Reveals How He Discovered Its Benefits” on “Nation World News” and, separately, “How The Man With the Worst Last Name in Human History Discovered Its Advantages” on “World Nation News,” a totally different website. Joseph’s article about how AI-generated plagiarism is showing up all over Google News, while our articles are not, was quickly picked up by a website called “Digital Information World” in a completely illegible, obviously AI-generated article called “AI-Produced Content Is Being Marketed Across Google News And The Company Is Aware Of It,” apparently written by Dr. Hura Anwar, a dental surgeon who publishes articles on the website roughly every six minutes, all day every day. Digital Information World is, of course, indexed by Google News.

Reading this paragraph is incredibly disheartening for any writer, let alone journalists who clearly spent months preparing articles. I don't even remotely consider my writing of that caliber, but the situation is the same. AI companies and scammers are whole-heartedly ripping off the entire written internet to train their tools and make money from SEO and ads.

Unfortunately, lawmakers seem to be completely uninterested unless Taylor Swift is involved. What's also ridiculous is that the people building these generative AI models don't even know how these things work. Either way, here we are: generative AI is destroying the internet we know by ripping off creator's work.

A few years back, someone completely ripped off my Medium articles. I found out because I was getting a strange amount of inbound links from Flipboard, the news aggregation website. I started investigating since I hadn't put any of my writing on Flipboard. It turns out someone copied my writing to their website, which was filled with ads to purchase their book. They just didn't bother fixing the links in the article, which is how I figured it all out. I contacted the plagiarizer and both Medium and Flipboard's legal folks to get it all taken down. The writing was taken down, but that would only be the beginning.

Since then, my writing has been ripped off so many times on so many SEO-focused websites designed to drive traffic to ads I've given up trying to do anything about it. I even spoke with Medium's Trust and Safety folks, who told me almost nothing can be done. Most of these scraping sites operate overseas and just don't really apply under any kind of law. AI is just significantly increasing the speed of these nonsense sites that do nothing but steal other people's work and ideas.

That brings me back to last week's question: should everything I write require a subscription? The consensus was overwhelming: A paywall is the only logical option to combat generative AI. Some of you even remarked that subscriptions will be required for all writing in the near future.

You know, I don't really like that version of the internet.

I believe two conflicting things about the internet: everything should be free and creators should be compensated for their work. It's a dichotomy that's hard to balance. So, I agree with you all that subscription-based paywalls will be necessary, but I also don't have to like it.

Starting today (or, well, this past weekend when I set it all up), all of my writing requires a subscription. If you subscribe to the newsletter, you can also read anything on the website. Logging into the site using your email address is the only way to read past articles. Newsletter subscriptions are free. If you want to upgrade, paid options are also available.

I remain conflicted that this is the right option. I also don't know if it will eventually be enough to prevent AI-based plagiarism. But it also feels like the only option available right now. Again, I don't like this version of the internet we're moving into.

If you create anything, you have to decide what is freely available and what requires a subscription. I'm curious what you end up deciding.