It seems like every day a new article, story, or debate arises around the rise of AI. While its benefits vary from one industry to another and one user to the next, the writing world continues finding itself at the forefront of perceived changes. There is a mass fear around AI stealing work, and it is reaching the same fever pitch we experienced with Y2K in the late 1990s. But if history has taught us anything, we should be able to pause and realize speculation is often worse than the reality of what will come. Are there bad actors who will use AI to pirate an author’s work? Of course. Much like a drunk driver can get behind the wheel of a car and cause havoc, so too can AI be used maliciously – yet we have no widespread fear of automobiles.
Books have been pirated, copyrights infringed, and trademarks ignored long before we had access to the internet – forget about AI. If someone has nefarious intent, they will always find a way to carry it out. It is just that now they have more efficient tools to do so. Knowing anyone with a ChatGPT subscription can upload excerpts of your writing and generate alternate versions of the book to publish under their own name should rightfully worry people, especially content creators. Forty years ago, though, someone could take a book to the pharmacy and photocopy it to redistribute without permission, and there was no safeguard against it. In fact, due to a lack of connectivity, impacted authors might have never even found out.
The same technology many fear is what can also be used to stay vigilant and catch these occurrences in as close to real-time as possible. But it’s true that authors alone cannot combat the trend of piracy and misrepresentation. All the companies and platforms serving the writing community need to look at their systems and processes, asking themselves if they are doing enough to combat this threat. It sounds like a daunting undertaking on an individual level but if each private publisher, book review site, podcast, and other forum took the time to adjust yesterday’s strategy for today’s problem, it would be infinitely easier.
Whether you love or hate Amazon, and whether or not you agree with their policies, they have at least taken steps to show would-be book pirates that they intend to make life difficult for them. When an author uploads a book for self-publishing these days, Amazon asks the question as to whether generative AI was used in the writing process. Granted, at face value this question is on the honor system, but it does raise awareness. Amazon has also informed authors of a more stringent review process for new books going forward and a potential limitation on the number of titles any one person can publish in a specific timeframe to reduce the number of AI-generated, legitimate or not, books flooding the marketplace.
Why then are other not companies and sites not taking notice and doing more to protect the integrity of the writing process? In a recent article posted on www.arstechnica.com, authors were outraged at how difficult the process is to have books fraudulently published with their names on them removed from book review sites. One would think the process should be as simple as an author contacting support or an administrator, showing proper identification, and possibly providing a written statement asserting the book is not theirs. The book then gets removed from the site, or an investigation ensues with the purported author who uploaded it to verify their identity.
Another potential solution, and hold on to your keyboards because we are getting a little crazy, would be to use AI in the battle against AI-generated books. The FBI is known for employing convicted hackers to assist with cybersecurity efforts, so why would this be any different. Just like AI can be taught how to generate content, it could equally be taught how to detect it. In truth, this has existed for ages. Teachers and professors have software they can use to determine if a student’s papers have been plagiarized; this would just be an industry-wide initiative.
But at the end of the day, fear does not get us anywhere. You can pull a muscle training for a marathon, break bones preparing for a boxing match, or risk having the book you did not even start writing stolen by someone who does not even know you exist. Personally, the first two sound like more serious threats. And if you are a prolific and well-known writer on the other end of the spectrum, the likelihood that anyone will be able to successfully pawn off your work as their own is slim to none. Embrace the AI, but always remain vigilant. We don’t expect the airplane to crash when the “fasten seatbelt” indicator comes on, but we sure do buckle up!