Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
Robot Ghostwriters Have Arrived
An author friend of mine said that she’s begun using an artificial intelligence “ghostwriter,” or AI writing assistant, called Jasper. You tell Jasper what you want to write, and the AI will write it for you.
While my friend says she uses it to completely write routine type communications, she also has started to use it for rough drafting of longer works. Of course, she edits what the robot writes. But it helps her get those ideas out of her head and into rough draft so much easier and faster.
As an author, I’m sure your head is spinning right now with a lot of questions and concerns about how tech like this will impact you and the writing industry.
What Does an AI Writing Assistant Do?
An AI writing assistant functions like a robot ghostwriter. You tell the program what you want to write about, along with any stylistic elements and tone you’d prefer. For example, you can tell it to write in a certain style of writing or speaking. It then generates written copy according to your parameters. I’m reminded of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Geordi asked the holodeck computer to create a game scenario in the Sherlock Holmes-ian style that could beat Data, the android, as an opponent.
The types of writing this AI tech can accomplish is extensive. Ad and marketing copy, sales letters, blog posts, video scripting, social media posts, and even books. The robot-written copy can then be edited prior to publishing.
Note that with rare exception, these services have costs, some could be hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. If there’s a free service, it’s usually limited use and/or a free trial.
How Does the AI Writing Assistant Know How and What to Write?
From the reading I’ve done about the Jasper program, the AI base program has read about 10 percent of the internet. That’s quite a chunk of the internet even if 10 percent doesn’t sound like a lot. Based on analysis of all that content and data, the AI writing assistant predicts what the customer might want to write.
If you use Gmail, you might have seen how this kind of thing might work in action, though on a limited scale. You start typing a sentence, and Gmail suggests the rest of what you might want to say. It’s often quite accurate, though I’ve found it a little on the verbose side at times.
Is the AI Writing Assistant Just Stealing Content from the Internet?
No, they’re not supposed to. But it may happen inadvertently. Jasper, for example, says their program is plagiarism free. However, the Copyscape plagiarism checker is provided for an extra fee. Using a program that includes or offers plagiarism protection would be preferred.
What About Copyrights… and Monkey Business?
Here’s where things get very muddy legally on two points: human authorship and work for hire.
As for human authorship, the U.S. Copyright office says that only “An original work of authorship is a work that is independently created by a human author and possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity.” (Copyright Basics circular, U.S. Copyright Office.)
Read More From Toughnickel
In the past, I’ve discussed Google Books auto-narration program for audiobooks, and how Amazon’s ACX audiobook publishing platform for Audible requires that a human narrator narrates the book. But those are completely different issues since Google’s auto-narration is merely a robot reading a work, not creating it. The issue of AI writing assistants is so much more complex.
As AI continues to evolve, cases are going to court arguing about copyright ownership for creative works created by AI. There’s always the question of how much is the creator’s work, and how much is AI.
Similar cases involving selfie photos that animals may take with the help of technology, such as the famous monkey selfie cases. With photos, it’s the person (note I said “person”) who clicks the shutter is generally regarded as the creator entitled to copyrights. But what would an animal do with the copyright? Is the owner of the animal the owner of the copyright? How about the owner of the picture taking equipment, which may or may not be the animal’s owner? Most outcomes of these claims are that the animals cannot hold copyrights. The U.S. Copyright Office holds that these photos belong in the public domain. But if the animal’s owner or person who owns the photo equipment wants compensation for these works, are they entitled to any? Would the AI writing assistant be in the same scenario as the monkey? So much monkey business!
In the case of AI writing assistants, we have a whole new can of legal worms as it also relates to work for hire. Is the AI writing assistant service acting in a work for hire arrangement with an author? If so, that’s not much different than an author who hires a ghostwriter. In that case, the author has engaged the ghostwriter in a work for hire arrangement, the author holds the copyright. Or is the AI writing assistant just a “machine” that facilitates authors in their work?
I did reach out to Jasper’s support team who clarified that subscribers have 100% of the rights to work created with their service. That may not be the case for all of these services. So make sure you understand the Terms of Service and contact the service for clarification. But that still doesn’t address the copyright eligibility issue.
In 2022, the U.S. Copyright Office denied copyright registration for one particular AI-generated artwork for a second time. That story is fascinating. Do a search for Dr. Stephen Thaler’s AI-generated artwork, A Recent Entrance to Paradise, for which he wanted to register a copyright.
Just as animal selfies may be considered public domain works, would AI-generated writing also be public domain? That’s a big problem for authors who want to make money from their writing. Is an author using these services the actual author? If your readers found out you “hired” a robot to help you write significant portions of your book, would they think you’re a cheater or devalue your work?
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. But we have to wonder how a self publishing platform like Kindle Direct Publishing, or even the U.S. Copyright Office, would determine if a manuscript in a Word document was, in whole or in part, AI-generated, human generated, or both. It can be hard to tell.
For right now, as a writer, I think using AI writing assistants for routine business communications like marketing copy or social media posting is a great use of the tech. But for creative work that I wish to hold copyright on, I’m a little less enthused, at least until legal precedents for copyrights on AI-generated content are more firmly established. I’d also like to see how readers and society at large accept or reject AI-generated or assisted works over time. This is still in an early adoption phase, even if the technology is evolving rapidly.
Will AI Writing Assistants Put Ghostwriters Out of Business?
At some point in the future, after the legalities and societal norms of using AI writing assistants are sorted out, I do think authors may consider both human and AI ghostwriters. However, I believe that we’re not there yet. Not because a robot can’t do as good as a human, but because the laws governing rights of human versus AI-generated creative work will take time to develop.
And how will you know if your ghostwriter is using one of these AI assistants, too? Will you require that this be disclosed? Would it make a difference to you if the ghostwritten book is a good end product?
These are philosophical and ethical issues that we as a creative community and as a society will need to wrestle with. I’m looking forward to the landmark court cases.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne