Microsoft AI CEO: Web content is ‘freeware’

Microsoft’s AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman believes most web content is “freeware’ that can be used for training AI models. The only exception: websites that explicitly opt out.

Freeware is any form of copyrighted software that can be freely downloaded, installed and used by end users.

The quote. Here’s what Suleyman told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Aspen Ideas Festival:

  • “…With respect to content that is already on the open web, the social contract of that content since the ’90s has been that it is fair use. Anyone can copy it, recreate with it, reproduce with it. That has been freeware, if you like. That’s been the understanding.
  • “There’s a separate category where a website or a publisher or a news organization had explicitly said, ‘do not scrape or crawl me for any other reason than indexing me so that other people can find that content.’ That’s a gray area and I think that’s going to work its way through the courts.”

Fair use or theft? Fair uses allows for limited use of copyright material (e.g., criticism, teaching, research), but what AI models do goes beyond this. The companies behind the AI models clearly want to profit from this content.

Why we care. There is no such “social contract” that I’m aware of. Microsoft (and Google) simply believe that all online content should be available for AI training. Clearly, this benefits these large multinational corporations. The actual content producers? Not so much.

Zoom out. This controversial quote comes as Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and other companies face multiple legal challenges over copyright infringement. This is also why OpenAI is signing so many content licensing deals.

The video. CEO of Microsoft AI speaks about the future of artificial intelligence at Aspen Ideas Festival (CNBC)

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About the author

Danny GoodwinDanny Goodwin

Danny Goodwin has been Managing Editor of Search Engine Land & Search Marketing Expo – SMX since 2022. He joined Search Engine Land in 2022 as Senior Editor. In addition to reporting on the latest search marketing news, he manages Search Engine Land’s SME (Subject Matter Expert) program. He also helps program U.S. SMX events.

Goodwin has been editing and writing about the latest developments and trends in search and digital marketing since 2007. He previously was Executive Editor of Search Engine Journal (from 2017 to 2022), managing editor of Momentology (from 2014-2016) and editor of Search Engine Watch (from 2007 to 2014). He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.

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