The Most Important Copyright Battle of Our Lives

In the last 12 months, what the lay person would call artificial intelligence has taken a major jump forward. OpenAI launched ChatGPT on November 30, 2022 and probably has the fastest growing user base of any product in history. I say probably, because OpenAI hasn’t disclosed any usage data. But it went from a thing that didn’t exist to the thing that everyone was using in just a few months.

ChapGPT is more properly categorized as a large language model, and there are many new implementations of these models which can generate images, video, and music. All these models had to be trained on something, and they were all trained on data from on the internet, which creates a legal dilemma under current US law.

Just because this blog post is available on the web doesn’t mean that I have relenquished the copyright. Neither the statue nor the case law are clear on whether using a copyrighted work to train a large language model is fair use. In the short few months since these models became wildly popular, this has been mostly a thought exercise. Getty Images brought the first notable cases in this area of the law by suing Stability AI in both the US and the UK. Getty alleges:

Stability AI has copied more than 12 million photographs from Getty Images’ collection, along with the associated captions and metadata, without permission from or compensation to Getty Images, as part of its efforts to build a competing business.

Court cases take a long time. DCMA takedown notices get processed much faster. Nilay Patel explains:

The AI Drake track that mysteriously went viral over the weekend is the start of a problem that will upend Google in one way or another — and it’s really not clear which way it will go.

Here’s the basics: there’s a new track called “Heart on My Sleeve” by a TikTok user called @ghostwriter877 with AI-generated vocals that sound like Drake and The Weeknd.

This track was posted to YouTube, and then Google got a DMCA takedown notice from Universal Music Group:

But then TikTok and YouTube also pulled the track. And YouTube, in particular, pulled it with a statement that it was removed due to a copyright notice from UMG. And this is where it gets fascinatingly weedsy and probably existentially difficult for Google: to issue a copyright takedown to YouTube, you need to have… a copyright on something. Since “Heart on my Sleeve” is an original song, UMG doesn’t own it — it’s not a copy of any song in the label’s catalog.

So what did UMG claim? I have been told that the label considers the Metro Boomin producer tag at the start of the song to be an unauthorized sample, and that the DMCA takedown notice was issued specifically about that sample and that sample alone.

Nilay explains Google’s predicament with “Heart on My Sleeve”, but it’s merely another skirmish in the broader war. We have large language models that can pass the bar exam. But only when trained on a corpus of data with legally disputed provenance. The lawyers are gonna make a lot of money over the next decade as we sort this all out.

The Gambler Who Beat Roulette

I’m a sucker for a good heist story, and this is a good heist story.

“It is practically impossible to predict the number that will come up,” Stephen Hawking once wrote about roulette. “Otherwise physicists would make a fortune at casinos.” The game was designed to be random; chaos, elegantly rendered in circular motion.

… The green 0 pocket (with an additional 00 pocket on American wheels) means even the highest-odds bets, on red or black for example, have a slightly less than half chance of success. Everyone loses eventually.

Except for Niko Tosa and his friends. When the Croatian left the casino in the early hours of March 16, he’d turned £30,000 worth of chips into a £310,000 check. His Serbian partner did even better, making £684,000 from his initial £60,000. He asked for a half-million in two checks and the rest in cash. That brought the group’s take, including from earlier sessions, to about £1.3 million.

Leading From The Heart

Fred Wilson cofounded Union Square Ventures, and has invested in hundreds of companies.

He says that leading from the heart is very powerful.

I have watched so many leaders over the years in my various roles as lead investor, board member, board chair, investor, and advisor.

And one thing I have learned from this front-row seat is that leading from the heart is very powerful.

A leader can be the most brilliant product person, strategist, entrepreneur, and business builder, but if they cannot get people to follow them, trust them, and care for them, they will not be an effective leader.

I am now working in my eigth tech startup. Much is expected from leaders in any company. Even more is expected from leaders of startups. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotional leadership. The most fun and most personally rewarding companies I’ve worked at all had leaders with a high emotional quotient.

Platform enshittification

Cory Docterow with a wickedly insightful take on the lifecycle of any platform:

Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

He calls this process ‘enshittification’, which is a glorious and perfect word for this process:

This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.

No Customer Data

I’ve been a happy Mullvad VPN user for a long time. They don’t have the cheapest VPN service, but they also don’t do any slimey paid sponsoring of VPN review sites. The performance has always been top notch; I’ve never had stuttering or lag while streaming video up or down.

But most importantly, their privacy policy and associated operational procedures state that they don’t store user data. They don’t even have your email address, they issue you a random number for your user id.

When a squad of police officers showed up at Mullvad’s offices with a search warrant, they left empty handed, because there was nothing for them to sieze:

We argued they had no reason to expect to find what they were looking for and any seizure would therefore be illegal under Swedish law. After demonstrating that this is indeed how our service works and them consulting the prosecutor they left without taking anything and without any customer information.

If they had taken something that would not have given them access to any customer information.

Privacy is important to me. Mullvad just proved they follow their privacy policy and don’t store any customer data.