AAP’s 2024 Annual Meeting: ‘No Silver Bullet to Regulate AI’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 2024 annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers featured Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and a focus on AI and copyright.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa speaks to the Association of American Publishers’ 2024 annual meeting. Image: Publishing Perspectives from AAP stream

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Ressa to Publishers: ‘Please Hold the Line’
One of the best questions asked today (May 9) during the 2024 annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers came from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist and author Maria Ressa, who asked during the meeting, “How do you put it into an elevator pitch for the Pope?”

The “it” she referred to is one of her most pressing talking points: “How can we have the rule of law if we don’t have integrity of facts?” Prior to joining the AAP for its online meeting today, she arrived in Rome to be part of Friday’s (May 10) invitational round table at the Vatican with the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus; her co-winner of the Nobel, the Russian journalist Dmitri Muratov; South Africa’s Graça Machel Mandela; and others.

Ressa is a stream-of-consciousness veteran of many live appearances whose book, How To Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future was published by HarperCollins in November 2022. She has for many years been raising bright-red flags about weaponized data, which includes those copyright-defying large language models’ training protocols as well as social media channels in which disinformation flourishes.

Beyond AI copyright challenges, she tracks mounting dangers to the world’s democracies: If you don’t have integrity of facts, you cannot have integrity of elections.” Ressa’s distinctive gift is her ability to envision the approach of a mechanized shakedown of social and civil life. She recognizes an infrastructure so rich in corporate and state surveillance that “We are walking,” as she puts it, “into a time when we’re losing our humanity.”

Often struggling to slow down as she speaks, Ressa peppers her comments with laughter, obviously aware that what she’s saying is so concerning that many who hear her will need the relief of humor to get through it. That’s when a line like her “elevator pitch for the Pope” pops up. You notice at such moments that no one enjoys these lines more than she does.

But ultimately her comments have no funny ending, and she’s genuinely persuaded that much of the world order is being eroded by such events as Bolsonaro’s 2019 to 2021 term in Brazil (“I’ve just come from there”) and the cult of Donald Trump (“We are electing illiberal leaders”) and the political life of her native country (“What did we get in the Philippines?—Rodrigo Duterte”). The key element of this she’s carrying to the Vatican is about souls, especially young ones, being born into an era of deep fakes and stolen texts.

Even with TikTok announcing that it will start labeling AI-generated content, “I worry about our Gen Zs,” Ressa says when asked by an AAP meeting attendee what her talks at the Vatican are about. She’s worried, she says, because “generative AI looks set to weaponize loneliness in the sphere of our public information ecosystem. How does the generation that grows up on this addictive technology find meaning when they’re living in a performative way, right?

Related article: ‘Maria Ressa on ‘Real-World Violence’ at WEXFO in Norway.‘ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

“We’ll be seeing the Pope on Saturday” Ressa says, “but on Friday we’re working on two documents” in that round-table event.

“I come from Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation. And leadership in the Catholic Church will be critically important just like leadership in any religion becomes critical. So the first is a call for peace. The second is the hashtag #BeHuman,” which is the hashtag for the Vatican’s invitational World Meeting on Human Fraternity this weekend in which Ressa is participating.

“Be human,” she says. “In the age of machines.”

Asked by Maria A. Pallante, the association’s president and CEO, what the world of publishing can do in Ressa’s understanding of the moment, Ressa doesn’t hesitate: “Books to me? This is thinking slowly, it’s immersing yourself, it’s standing on the shoulders of giants. And please understand that now more than ever, the search for meaning is so much more difficult.

“You [publishers] are going to be tempted to give us sugar, but please hold the line. Books are incredibly important. During the pandemic, I was happy to see your business grow. But everything moved from the analog world to the digital world during the pandemic and that will make your task harder.

“And yet we’re aligned in this. It’s a search for meaning. It’s a search for the good.”

Chi: ‘Using Technology to Promote Freedom of Speech’

Noting that Ressa is “a lifelong friend of mine who has spent her career fearlessly challenging tyranny, defending democracy, and using technology to promote freedom of speech,” “YS Chi welcomed the assembly to today’s meeting. Chi, installed in February as the AAP board’s current chairman, is chair of the Amsterdam-based Elsevier and director of corporate affairs for Elsevier’s parent, RELX.

Youngsuk ‘YS’ Chi

In his comments, Chi made it clear that artificial intelligence would be at the heart of the concerns discussed in the AAP’s annual meeting.

“A year ago,” Chi said, “we were just beginning to understand the implications of generative AI on the publishing industry and the economy as a whole. The picture has gotten a lot clearer.

“We now know that illegally mining copyrighted works is not merely an unfortunate side effect of building large language models. It’s the basis of their entire business model. And when big tech leaders are asked about this, they don’t even try to hide what they’ve done. Instead, they argue that breaking the law will be worth it in the long run.”

Pallante’s leadership of the association has become defined in part by her expertise in copyright law and coordinated litigation among member publishers against censorship issues. In today’s meeting, she echoed Chi’s comments and those she made in a World IP Day op-ed at The Hill written with the Authors Guild’s Mary Rasenberger and Danielle Coffey of News Media Alliance. To the AAP annual meeting, Pallante said:

“Here in Washington, we’ve never been more aware that technology moves quickly, while law and policy move slowly, as we’ve never experienced such an enormous gap between law and power. Not even in the days of the robber barons.

Maria A. Pallante

“In the past two years, big tech companies—which were already dominant in markets and policy battles—have reached new levels of astronomical wealth and influence through the commercial exploitation of generative AI. It goes without saying that these tools are fascinating and have far-reaching potential, but they’re based on the un-permissioned copying of millions of valuable books and other published works.

“While the mass copying is bad enough, some developers blew past paywalls and used notorious pirate sites to accelerate their gains. These are shocking facts for American companies that purport to be our business partners, and it should therefore come as no surprise that there are 24 AI copyright suits pending in the United States, some with claims so similar and urgent that courts have begun to consolidate them.

“Still, there’s no silver bullet for regulating AI. The goal—to encourage tremendous promise while preventing tremendous harm—presents a Gordian Knot that will remain challenging for even the most skilled policy makers in the world.

“To protect society, we’ll need a forward-thinking scheme of legal rules and enforcement authority across numerous jurisdictions and disciplines, not only intellectual property, but also national security, trade, privacy, consumer protection, and human rights, to name a few. And we will need ethical conduct.

“At AAP, we take pride in the fact that publishing is so closely aligned with democracy. It is constitutionally protected, but we don’t take the law for granted. As Maria Ressa has stated so many times through her words and her example, ‘If we do not use our rights, we may lose them.'”

Distinguished Public Service Award: Rep. Darrel Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican of California, was named this year’s recipient of the association’s Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his work as a senior member of the US House of Representatives’ bipartisan task force on AI. Issa, representing California’s 48th district, is chair of the House Intellectual Property Subcommittee, and the AAP’s award annually recognizes “outstanding contributions to the public good by advancing laws or policies that respect the value, creation, and publication of original works of authorship.”

Darrell Issa

In a taped message to the annual meeting, Issa told the publishers, “Our responsibility is simple. We must induce the creation of original works of art, either by humans or humans using AI to create these works. We must strive for the right balance between innovation and making sure that right holders enjoy strong IP protection for their creative works.

“We lead not just here but around the world. That’s why over the last year I’ve held three hearings that have explored copyright protections in the age of AI. … And in February of this year, I convened a round table in Los Angeles to meet with movie studios, artists, actors, and tech companies.

“Throughout these discussions, one theme remained true: AI cannot become a means to weakening IP protections. As cases involving fair use make their way through the courts, Congress must simultaneously listen and be ready to act. We must have an eye toward what guidance to give the courts to provide in this area and be ready to act if IP protections are being weakened for creators. As I said earlier, our goal is to induce new creative works and harness human creativity.”

Fairly Trained: Unfair ‘Synthetic Data’

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the Association of American Publishers has announced its support for a start-up called Fairly Trained. Today’s meeting included an appearance from its founder, Ed Newton-Rex, who resigned in November as the vice-president of audio for Stability AI, citing concerns over AI “exploiting creators.”

Ed Newton-Rex

One of the most cogent points Newton-Rex made today was that the use of “synthetic data” in training LLMs is no panacea because it remains a form originally created from stolen content.

“You steal a bunch of work,” Newton-Rex said. “Basically you train a model, you generate a bunch of new data, and then you have this new data, which in the United States at least, looks like it doesn’t have any copyrights in it at the moment.

“And so lawyers are saying, ‘Train your model on this synthetic data.’ Obviously that solves nothing for actual creators and rights holders because their work is still being exploited, just earlier in the process.

“It’s just a way of skirting copyright litigation, essentially.”


A Programming Note: WEXFO 2024

On May 27, the first day of the two-day World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, Publishing Perspectives will moderate an afternoon-length publishing-specific program titled Access to Information, Books, and Ideas: How to Advance the Freedom to Read.

Publishing Perspectives will moderate this event, with documentation to follow, in which speakers will explore how “politicians must look at the funding to support reading, not as funding something ‘nice to have,’ but as a pure necessity in the fight to uphold our democracies.”

Among the most serious conference-setting examinations of the gathering pressure on publishing to date, this event will bring together speakers including:

Speakers in the special May 27 focus on advancing the freedom to read are, on the top row from left, Miha Kovač; ; Jørgen Lorentzen; Even Aleksander Hagen; and Karine Pansa. On the lower row from left are Tora Åsling; Mariann Schjeide; Laurie Halse Anderson; and Olav Brostrup Müller

Ticketing information and other details about the 2024 WEXFO, May 27 and 28, is here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Association of American Publishers is here. More from us on artificial intelligence, AI, is here. More from us on the freedom of expression and freedom to publish is here, more on copyright and its issues is here, more on book bannings is here, and more on the United States market is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on issues of the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and on the International Publishers Association is here. More on the World Expression Forum, WEXFO, is herePublishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.