In a world where the tendrils of Artificial Intelligence (AI) reach into every facet of our lives, the recent exposure of the Book3 dataset has unearthed a contentious issue plaguing the literary landscape. This dataset, utilized to train generative AI for tech giants Meta and Bloomberg, included a staggering 18,000 Australian titles without consent or compensation.
This alarming development has sparked a resurgence in discussions surrounding the precarious position of writers, their economic sustenance, and the fundamental purpose of literature. Consequently, a new entity, the Copyright and AI reference group, has emerged, seeking to navigate the complex intersection of AI and literary creation.
The legacy of Frank Moorhouse
Few individuals in Australia have contemplated the intricate dance between technology and literature as profoundly as the late Frank Moorhouse. Born into an agricultural manufacturing family in 1938, Moorhouse’s early exposure to the evolving landscape of media and technology shaped his perspective on their profound impact on society and culture. From the nascent days of radio to the birth of television in 1956, Moorhouse’s journey coincided with the coining of the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1956, marking the inception of a new technological era.
Moorhouse’s intellectual journey extended beyond his literary achievements, delving into the realms of cybernetics and the symbiotic relationship between human organisms and technology. His understanding of the transformative power of technology was not confined to the realms of literature but extended to the broader implications for society.
AI unleashed – Moorhouse’s copyright battle and tech predictions
Moorhouse’s pivotal moment in the public eye came in the 1970s through a landmark copyright case against the University of New South Wales. The case, Frank Moorhouse and Angus & Robertson vs University of New South Wales, addressed the unauthorized use of a library photocopy machine to duplicate a story from Moorhouse’s work, “The Americans, Baby” (1972). This legal skirmish laid the foundation for the establishment of the Copyright Agency Ltd, reflecting Moorhouse’s foresight into the challenges posed by evolving technology.
Moorhouse’s contributions to the literary landscape extended beyond legal battles. In the late 1960s, foreseeing the rise of television and computers, he predicted a shift away from traditional reading, envisioning a society perpetually connected to the world through electrical means. This anticipation of a technological revolution marked his perspective on the role of writers, whom he referred to as the “blacksmiths of this century,” a profession seemingly sliding towards obsolescence.
As technology advanced, Moorhouse remained at the forefront of advocating for authors’ rights. Recognizing the need for an evolving legal framework to address the challenges posed by each technological leap, he participated in various organizations and campaigns throughout the 1970s.
The unseen consequences
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Moorhouse’s warnings about the potential consequences of advancing technology ring eerily true. In 2005, he expressed concerns about Google and other search engines scanning hard-copy libraries, including copyrighted works, a practice that was proceeding despite legal actions. The digital age brought new challenges, with the National Library of New Zealand unknowingly contributing to what Richard Flanagan termed “the biggest act of copyright theft in history” by donating books, including Moorhouse’s, to the Internet Archive for digitization.
Notably, Moorhouse did not live to witness the violation of his works in the more recent Book3 dataset. His final work, “The Drover’s Wife,” became a part of this collection, emphasizing the profound impact of technology on literary creations.
As we reflect on Frank Moorhouse’s legacy, it becomes apparent that the struggles and triumphs of literary creation are intrinsically human experiences. In an era dominated by generative AI and technological advancements, Moorhouse’s foresight and advocacy for authors’ rights remain relevant. The clash between technology and literature persists, raising critical questions about the future of literary endeavors. Can literary biography, as a record of human struggles and triumphs, play a pivotal role in preserving the value of literary effort against the encroachment of AI? In a world increasingly intertwined with technology, the enduring legacy of Frank Moorhouse prompts us to consider the delicate balance between embracing progress and safeguarding the essence of human creativity.