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A.I. Language Models – Teething pains, prompts, and copyright

Patrick Lim
Partner at Raj, Ong & Yudistra

It has been a few months since the craze of ChatGPT hit the shores of Malaysia. With everyone exploring various artificial intelligence powered tools, it is easy to get lost in the hype and have strong emotional reactions to this latest inflection point of human progress.

The variety of reactions on social media have ranged between feeling like the human race is doomed to those who are exclaiming the virtues of an AI powered future, often giving tips or links to more AI tools that one can use to supercharge ones’ life.

Asking the right question

Having revelled in the use of ChatGPT and the various online discussions, I have noticed a consistent theme. It is usually centred around how to use these AI language models effectively. It all seems to boil down to asking the right question.

I am reminded of the movie “I-Robot” where the character of Will Smith stands on the hill, asking the simulation of the professor the question that makes him realise what the evil AI in the movie is really up to, and the simulation answers, “and that, is the right question“.

In Malaysia as well as most Asian countries, our examination model is centred around answering questions. We are trained since young to remember facts, extrapolate information, and elaborate points, all with the sole purpose of answering questions. This may be why, people do not like talking to lawyers, we ask too many questions.

We appear to lack the skill and training to ask questions. We are always thought “there is no right answer, only the answer that works“. We are never thought, “there is no right question, only the question that gets things to work“. But it is always the question that seem to stimulate the answers we need.

All this is to say, maybe, just maybe, a better way to use these large language models such as #ChatGPT is to ask better questions.

But, let’s say you do ask the right questions. Then what?

Prompts – The latest bastion of intellectual property?

What is a #prompt? – “and that, is the right question

A prompt is a piece of text that a user provides to the system to initiate a specific task or generate a response from the system. A prompt serves as a starting point or a guide for the AI system to generate output that is relevant to the user’s input.” – ChatGPT, circa February 2023

If everyone asks the same question, wouldn’t everyone get the same answer? And therein lies the central issue with whether the text generated from a large language model is capable of being unique… and therefore capable of copyright?

The answer seems to be “no”. But then, one can argue there is effort put into prompts. And crafting the right prompts would require almost the same process as a lawyer preparing questions for trial. I may have offended lawyers with that statement.

But a quick check online will show you a thriving marketplace for prompts, not just for ChatGPT, but for other AI powered tools. The market speaks.

This is where I lay down my argument and purpose of this whole article. Maybe the intellectual asset that a creator using AI powered tools should look to protect are the questions and not the results.

Copyright Basics

My advice is to start the practice of keeping to these requirements and who knows, maybe in the future, when you are trying to protect the products of your unique ideas, you would have done enough to convince the courts to agree with you. Here are the basic requirements for #copyright (applicable in #Malaysia, and followed generally around the world – best check with your local counsel):

  1. Originality: To be eligible for copyright protection, a work must be original, meaning that it must be the result of the author’s own intellectual effort and not copied from another source.
  2. Fixation: The work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as a written or printed document, a recording, or a digital file.
  3. Authorship: The work must be created by a natural person or a group of natural persons, and not by a machine or computer program.
  4. Nationality or Residence: The author of the work must either be a Malaysian citizen or resident in Malaysia, or the work must have been first published in Malaysia.
  5. Substantiality: The work must be of a substantial nature, meaning that it must have sufficient length or substance to be considered a work of authorship.

In really basic terms – “be diligent in keeping copies of drafts and work product that show your work of crafting, trying, and testing the prompts, and make sure you put in the work“.

If you have read up to this point and are actually creating prompts or are thinking of embarking on a career in crafting prompts, good luck! It is a shiny new world.


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