OpenAI Must Face Libel Suit Over Chatbot Fabrication, Judge Rules

Siding against OpenAI, a judge in Georgia ruled Thursday that radio host Mark Walters can proceed with a defamation claim over false information provided by the chatbot ChatGPT.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Tracie Cason didn't spell out the reasons for her decision, other than to say she had reviewed the file and applicable law. 

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed last June, when Walters alleged that ChatGPT provided false and malicious information about him to the journalist Fred Rieh, who founded the publication AmmoLand News, which covers weapons.

According to Walters' complaint, Riehl asked ChatGPT to summarize a separate lawsuit brought in May by the Second Amendment Foundation and its founder, Alan Gottlieb, against Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Instead of accurately describing Gottlieb's lawsuit (in which he alleged he was was being wrongly investigated due to his views on gun rights), ChatGPT falsely wrote that Walters was accused of misappropriating funds.

That response was “a complete fabrication,” Walters alleged in his defamation lawsuit.

OpenAI argued in a November filing that the lawsuit should be dismissed at an early stage.

“Although the technology behind ChatGPT may be new, plaintiff’s claims fail for reasons deep-rooted in settled defamation law: there was no publication, no actual malice, no listener who believed the alleged defamatory content, and thus no harm to any reputation,” the company argued.

“Rather, there was only a journalist who knew the plaintiff, misused the software tool intentionally, and knew the information was false but spread it anyway, over OpenAI’s repeated warnings and in violation of its terms of use.”

OpenAI also argued that AI-generated content “is probabilistic and not always factual,” adding that “there is near universal consensus that responsible use of AI includes fact-checking prompted outputs before using or sharing them.”

The company added that the interactions between Riehl and ChatGPT showed that Riehl didn't believe the statements about Walters.

OpenAI argued that during the course of the chat, Riehl told the chatbot its reply was “false,” and that its replies and the description of Gottlieb's complaint “don't match.”

OpenAI also said ChatGPT “repeatedly told Mr. Riehl that in this specific matter, it could not access, let alone accurately summarize, the legal document in question.”

Walters' lawyer countered that OpenAI's arguments were premature in light of Georgia procedural rules.

He wrote in papers filed in late November that Georgia rules preclude “picking at factual allegations in a complaint as long as the complaint is reasonably supportable by facts that a plaintiff might prove later in the litigation.”

Counsel added that OpenAI's arguments focus on factual issues -- such as whether Riehl believed ChatGPT's statements -- that can only be resolved after both sides have exchanged evidence.

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