February 23, 2024

Delaware Federal Judge Stephanos Bibas has ruled that the lawsuit against Ross Intelligence will go to a jury.  The lawsuit alleges that Ross Intelligence unlawfully copied content from Thomson Reuters’ platform, Westlaw, to develop a competing AI-based platform. 

This development has set the stage for trials involving the alleged unauthorized use of data to train AI systems. It also raises crucial questions about the boundaries of data usage in AI development and its potential impact on copyright holders.

Notably, the Reuters report also revealed that tech giants like Meta Platforms, Stability AI, and Microsoft-backed OpenAI are facing similar lawsuits from copyright owners. 

A prominent player in the information services industry, Thomson Reuters, initiated legal action against Ross Intelligence in 2020.  The core of the dispute revolves around Ross Intelligence’s alleged infringement of Westlaw’s “headnotes.” These headnotes serve as concise summaries of legal points within court opinions. 

Thomson Reuters contends that Ross Intelligence misappropriated thousands of these headnotes to train its AI-powered legal search engine. In response to these allegations, Ross Intelligence stated that it had ceased its platform operations in January 2021attributing its decision to the financial burdens of the ongoing legal action.

However, the actual status of the platform still remains unclear. Both parties sought pretrial victories in the case, with Ross arguing that it made fair use of the Westlaw materialThis argument has raised a crucial question regarding the legality of using copyrighted data for generative AI training purposes.

Fair Use in AI Training

One pivotal question central to this case is whether Ross Intelligence’s use of the Westlaw headnotes constituted fair use. Ross asserted that the headnotes were used merely as a means to locate judicial opinions.

And they did not directly compete with Thomson Reuters in the market for the headnotes themselves. In contrast, Thomson Reuters countered that Ross had copied the materials to build a direct competitor to Westlaw. Judge Bibas, in his recent ruling, underscored the complexity of determining fair use in this context. 

He highlighted that it remains unclear whether Ross genuinely transformed the Westlaw material into a distinct research platform or with a different purpose, a critical consideration in fair use assessments. Judge Bibas also recognized a contentious issue concerning the public interest in allowing AI systems to be trained with copyrighted material. 

The ruling has ignited a debate about the broader implications of AI development in relation to copyright protection. Judge Bibas noted that he could not decide whether a verdict favoring Ross or Thomson Reuters would better serve the public interest. As a result, the case will be decided by a jury. 

As the Thomson Reuters vs. Ross Intelligence lawsuit unfolds and heads toward a trial, it presents a glimpse into the future of AI, copyright law, and the ethical considerations surrounding data usage. The outcome of this case will likely have far-reaching implications.

It will shape how tech companies acquire data for AI training. Additionally, it will prompt discussions on balance between innovation and intellectual property rights. Following this development, the legal landscape surrounding AI and data usage is poised for significant evolution.

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