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Should media be paid by ChatGPT & Co?

Essentially, tech are getting more from the media companies than they got during the search and web era, says the author.

Essentially, tech are getting more from the media companies than they got during the search and web era, says the author.

Published Jul 11, 2023


The media industry was still trying to recoup what was due to the industry when ChatGPT exploded. The bone of contention for years has been that tech giants were relying on the media industry to keep the internet content machinery working. Across the world, there was a slow realisation that the media industry deserves compensation for its content. Tech giants kept on fighting, and now they have added salt to injury.

The recent explosion of AI tools such as ChatGPT are worse than what we’ve seen in the digital sphere. What has been observed is that in most cases, technologies like ChatGPT rely on internet content to feed their seemingly smart responses.

What has not been acknowledged thus far is that such content is drawn from creators of content online. Of all the creators of content online, there’s none that comes close to the media industry. Should the media, therefore, not be paid for its content that is used by tools like ChatGPT?

When it comes to this matter, it’s also important to remember that tools like ChatGPT are created by real institutions. When it comes to ChatGPT, it has Sam Altman as the CEO of Open AI, an entity that created the technology. Add to that list Microsoft, the American technology giant that invested in OpenAI. This is also true for Google as well. The tech giant is behind Bard, the conversational generative artificial intelligence chatbot. It has also based its content on what is published. Essentially, tech are getting more from the media companies than they got during the search and web era.

This understanding should inform future discussions about compensating the media industry.

In order for this to happen, there’s a need for tech companies to be transparent about how they’ve used content online to build what appears to be just their own creation.

While most tech companies may feel that the damage is done, it’s important to consider the future implications of their actions. In the near future, we may have very few media companies. Such a reality may negatively impact the fabric of society and democracies across the world. We are also likely to see the damage that will be brought about by misinformation.

Businesses, countries and communities will be negatively affected by the shrinkage in the media industry. The tech sector cannot replace the function of the media. Any belief that the process of gathering news will be automated is ill informed.

The global tech industry needs to engage fairly with the media industry and look beyond profits.

It has been noted that the Online News Act, Bill C-18, was barely a few hours old when Meta announced it would soon start blocking Canadians from accessing and sharing news on Facebook, Instagram and all of its platforms.

The act is meant to change the way journalism in Canada is funded by requiring tech giants like Meta and Google to bargain with Canadian media businesses for using news content on their platforms. The Parliamentary Budget Office has estimated news organisations could share a total compensation of $329 million (R6.2 billion) annually.

Meta should reconsider its position on these matters. Will the tech giant apply the same approach across the world? Doing so would be detrimental to how societies access quality information. It is understood that Meta considers journalism content as a minor contributor company’s annual earnings — and so there’s a feeling that it would be easier to pull news altogether than comply with the legislation. This is a dangerous view, which is unfortunate from a company that has relied on the media industry to build its dominance.

The importance of this matter is such that it should no longer be treated as just an issue that is only considered in a single country. Global leaders in government, business should begin engagements with the tech industry to avoid a catastrophe that will impact the quality of information across the world.

There’s no question that the media landscape is undergoing a shift. The tech industry is largely to blame for the good and bad that we see in the media landscape. At the same time, the media industry should also rise to occasion.

The media should find ways of bringing an end to the exploitation by tech companies. The industry should review its business models and practices and take charge of its own survival. Leadership matters now more than ever. This is not a moment for competition. It’s time for co-operation and honest reflection.

Wesley Diphoko is a technology analyst. He serves as the Editor-In- Chief of FastComopany (SA) magazine and as the Chairman of the IEEE Open Data Initiative.