Yesterday, in response to the recent news of Amazon being flooded by AI-written books, I implemented a full ban on AI-generated submissions to my little publishing company, Legacy Books Press. Legacy Books Press will not consider any AI-written submission of any kind for publication, now or ever.
But, this deserves some explanation. After all, there is an argument to be made that a program such as ChatGPT can be a useful writing tool in cases of writer’s block, and I have used cover art generated by Midjourney on one of my own books, Magus Draconum. So, why am I taking so hard a stance on AI writing?
In the world’s largest English-language market, the United States, AI-generated art is not eligible for protection under copyright. While this makes little difference for the cover art of a minor vanity project such as Magus Draconum (a novel that sat on my hard drive for over 20 years before a release on a shoestring budget), it is a massive problem when it comes to the contents of an actual book.
Consider the worst-case scenario for an AI art book cover — because it is not protected by American copyright, anybody in the United States can see the cover, decide they like the picture, copy it, and use it however they please. If they do this, there is no legal recourse for the publisher to stop them — after all, it is an image in the public domain. However, the impact this will have on the sales of the book in question are minimal at best. The publisher still has full use of the image and the book cover. There is no concern about the copyright for the book itself being invalidated because an image in the public domain appears on its cover.
This, however, is a major concern for AI-generated prose. The United States Copyright Office recently decided that a copyright can only be registered for the parts of a work created by a human being in regards to a graphic novel titled Zarya of the Dawn, by Kris Kashtanova, where the images were generated by Midjourney with minor tweaks by Kashtanova, and Kashtanova wrote the story and script. The Copyright Office’s decision was that Kashtanova only qualified for a copyright registration on the story and script. This decision also stated that minor tweaks made to the Midjourney images were not sufficiently transformative or creative to permit for the material to gain protection under copyright.
Applying this decision to an AI-generated novel or book, it seems very clear that the United States Copyright Office would not issue a copyright certificate for a book whose text is mostly created by an AI such as ChatGPT. It would not matter if the person who instructed the AI to generate the text then went through said text and made modifications — so long as the vast majority of each chapter was authored by the AI, it would probably fail the test set by the Zarya of the Dawn decision. At best, the “author” could claim a story credit, but this would mean little in a field where the implementation of any given story is everything. For all intents and purposes, they would be submitting a book that does not qualify for copyright protection.
Why is this so massive a problem?
On the side of the “author,” it means that there is no legal protection from unscrupulous publishers. Copyright is a legal framework that governs how publishers and creators act in regards to each other. What deters a dishonest publisher from asking for a full manuscript from the author, rejecting it upon receipt, and then publishing it anyway under a different author name is that the author can take legal action under copyright law. But this only applies to a work that is protected by copyright, and an AI-generated book is not.
On the publisher side, it is even worse. For new books, publishers generally want first publication rights, but these are part of the copyright of a work — for an AI-generated book these rights do not exist to be negotiated or sold. Further, because these rights do not exist, there is nothing stopping an unscrupulous author from selling the book to a number of different publishers or just self-publishing their own competing edition. Likewise, even if the “author” does act with integrity, there is still nothing stopping a dishonest publisher from deciding that they like the book, scanning and OCRing its contents, and publishing a competing edition.
On a basic rights level, this is a nightmare for any publisher, with substantial risks that do not exist when dealing with an original book written by a human being. I am not willing to expose my publishing company to these risks.
Problems with the Creator
When somebody creates a book using an AI such as ChatGPT, by definition they are not the actual author of the book…and this creates its own set of massive problems for any publisher.
As one person who used ChatGPT admitted in a video walking viewers through how he used the program to create his novella, he does not know what is in the prose of his own book. This in turn means that if he had to go through the editing process prior to publication that is a basic part of quality control, he would not be competent to do so. If an editor told him that a specific chapter needed to have more suspense or that an emotional moment wasn’t landing properly, he would not have the basic understanding of his own narrative to make the necessary corrections, particularly if this required additions made to earlier chapters to set up a plot point or emotional beat.
In non-fiction, this is even worse, adding additional problems. When one buys the rights to a new non-fiction book, there is a leap of faith involved — faith that the author understands the material being written about, that credible sources were used, etc. If this leap of faith is unfounded (such as a book about Hillary Clinton’s election campaign relying on weird conspiracy theories), it can result in both the publisher and the author being sued for defamation.
But, if the book was written using an AI, this leap of faith cannot happen. The person submitting the book did not vet (or possibly even read) any sources, or even necessarily have an understanding of the subject matter — if the AI writing program got something wrong, there is little chance that they are aware of or even capable of catching the mistake. This makes the book functionally worthless to any publisher whose reputation is based on the quality and accuracy of what they put into print.
Apart from that, among those advocating for using AI to write books, there is a shocking level of contempt for the process of writing and a lack of professional integrity. The above-mentioned creator of an AI-generated novella stated in his video that he hadn’t bothered to familiarize himself with the narrative of his own book because it would have taken too long, and even went as far as to call the time spent writing and editing as “soul destroying.” His author bio on Amazon went beyond a pen-name into a full fabrication, claiming years of publication credits that did not exist. The creator of a non-fiction book using ChatGPT spent part of a video workshop about using the AI to create non-fiction books walking her students through fabricating somebody’s personal story using the AI — to present this supposed personal account as non-fiction is misrepresentation at best, and possibly even fraud. Whether intended or not, somebody who has used an AI to write their book is signalling to any publisher that they are not willing to do the work necessary to make the book good in the first place, and that the publisher quite possibly cannot trust a word they say in the book or out of it. I don’t think I speak just for myself when I say that as a publisher, I do not want to ever work with somebody like that.
The simple fact of the matter is that the risks of publishing an AI-generated book are simply too great. There is no functional protection under copyright in the world’s largest English-language market, and even if there was, the creator of the book cannot be considered competent to ensure quality control, or even trusted on a basic level. Legacy Books Press cannot shoulder these risks, and even if it could, there are no circumstances under which I would be willing to do so.
Robert B. Marks
Publisher, Legacy Books Press
February 23, 2023