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Artificial intelligence: the partnership agreement between Le Monde and OpenAI explained in 6 points

While the legal dispute initiated in the USA by the New York Times against Open AI at the end of December 2023 seems to be getting bogged down in the twists and turns of American procedure, the newspaper Le Monde has just announced with some pride that it has reached a historic agreement with Open AI on March 13, 2024.

Is this the manifestation of a "French touch" in the management of intellectual property issues that are worrying journalists as a result of the exponential deployment of new generative artificial intelligence tools? 

In any case, this multi-year agreement, the first between a French media outlet - Le Monde - and a major AI player - Open AI, operator of Chat GPT - seems a far cry from the logic of American litigation, and will enable Open AI to draw on Le Monde's exceptional documentary resources to make ChatGPT's responses more reliable, in return for a significant source of additional revenue for the newspaper.

1. What is the purpose of the agreement between Open AI and Le Monde?

As part of its discussions with key players in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), Le Monde has signed a multi-year agreement with OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT.

This agreement is the first signed between a French media company and a major player in Generative AI. It covers both the training of AI models developed by Open AI and response engine services such as ChatGPT. It will benefit users of this tool by enhancing its relevance with recent, authoritative content on a wide range of current topics and editorial prescriptions, while explicitly highlighting the newspaper's contribution to OpenAI's services.

This is a long-term agreement, designed as a true partnership. Under the terms of the agreement, teams from both companies will be able to draw on OpenAI technologies to develop AI-enabled projects and functionalities. The two parties will thus collaborate on a privileged and recurring basis. A dialogue between the teams of both parties will ensure the follow-up of products and technologies developed by OpenAI.

2. How will the agreement be applied in practice?

The agreement between Le Monde and OpenAI enables the latter, for the duration of the agreement, to rely on the Le Monde corpus as one of the major references for establishing and ensuring the reliability of its responses, particularly in the context of the GPT chat tool. References to Le Monde articles will be highlighted and systematically include a logo, a hypertext link and the title of the article(s) used as a reference.

This is a particularly interesting aspect of the agreement, as the highlighting of sources does not correspond to Chat GPT's current practice, which aggregates an infinite variety of sources that are virtually impossible to trace for the user.

Content supplied to Le Monde by press agencies and photographs published by Le Monde are expressly excluded from the agreement.

The agreement enables OpenAI to rely on the Le Monde corpus as one of the major references
The agreement enables OpenAI to rely on the Le Monde corpus as one of the major references / Canva

3. How does Le Monde intend to convert an existential risk into a "business opportunity" with this agreement?

This partnership should enable Le Monde's publisher to work with OpenAI to explore advances in this technology, anticipating its consequences as far as possible, and capitalizing as effectively as possible on the opportunities arising from this profoundly disruptive technology.

This agreement reflects the conviction of Le Monde's management that, in the face of the far-reaching transformations that lie ahead, we need to be agile enough to avoid the perils that are taking shape, as well as to seize the opportunities for development that are emerging. The dangers had already been widely identified by the press world: the plundering or counterfeiting of content, the industrial and immediate production of false information that break all journalistic rules, the detour of audiences from press titles to platforms likely to provide undocumented answers to all questions.

Artificial intelligence therefore poses an existential risk for the press: the disappearance of an economic model based on revenues from paid distribution.

But at the same time, these existential risks have been accompanied by historic opportunities, which Le Monde's managers have seized with a real sense of anticipation: putting the computing power of AI at the service of journalism, making it easier to work with multiple data in a shorter timeframe as part of wide-ranging investigations, translating our written content into audio format or foreign languages in order to extend the press's audience and disseminate its news and editorial formats to new audiences, notably younger and more digital-oriented.

4. Why does the agreement consolidate Le Monde's business model?

For Le Monde, this agreement is further recognition of the reliability of the work of its editorial teams, often considered as a news reference.  

Le Monde was one of the very first companies in France to sign so-called "neighboring rights" agreements, first with Facebook and then with Google. The logic of the agreement with Open AI is very similar to that which led to the signing of this agreement on the neighboring rights of press publishers, since it is once again a question of ensuring that these press publisher rights apply to the use of Le Monde content in reference to responses provided by services developed by OpenAI, and in particular Chat GPT.

This agreement consolidates Le Monde's business model by providing a significant source of additional, multi-year revenue, including a share of neighboring rights. An "appropriate and equitable" portion of these rights, as defined by law, will be paid back to the editorial staff.

For Le Monde, this agreement with Open AI could well be the start of a long series of agreements with all the major players in generative artificial intelligence, and thus the beginning of the creation of a new business model with significant resources for the press publisher.

5. What were the legal steps involved in concluding this agreement?

The historic agreement between Le Monde and Open AI came after several legal steps, and is ultimately their logical consequence.

As a reminder, in 2023, Le Monde, like several other French media, activated an "opt-out" clause on all its editorial websites, prohibiting AI platforms from accessing its data to train their generative intelligence models, in the absence of the publisher's agreement.

Secondly, Le Monde's management collectively discussed and then drew up an appendix to the "ethics and deontology charter", devoted specifically to the use of AI within the Le Monde Group. In particular, this text states that generative AI cannot be used in Le Monde publications to produce editorial content ex nihilo. Nor can they replace the editorial teams that form the core business and value of the famous French newspaper. Le Monde's charter does, however, authorize the use of generative AI as a tool to assist editorial production, under strictly defined conditions.

With this in mind, a new phase has been launched, dedicated to testing AI tools in very specific sectors of the newspaper's business.

  • Using the DeepL program, the newspaper's teams were able to launch the Le Monde in English website and application, whose articles are first translated by this AI tool, before being taken over by professional translators, then edited and finally published by a team of English-speaking journalists specializing in this edition;
  • At the same time, Le Monde's teams signed an agreement with Microsoft to test the audio version of press articles. This feature, which is now available on almost all articles published in the newspaper's application, opens the door to new audiences, often younger audiences, but also to new uses, particularly those of digital nomads.

The third stage in Le Monde's transformation is the agreement with OpenAI, designed to create a dynamic for independent journalism in the new technological landscape.

6. What is the philosophy behind this agreement?

At each of these stages, Le Monde points out that it has remained true to the spirit that has animated the newspaper since the advent of the Internet, and during major changes in the press industry: seeking to reconcile the desire to discover new business models and new sources of revenue, while focusing on protecting editorial identity and high standards of content. In recent years, this logic seems to have paid off, with Le Monde now boasting over 600,000 subscribers and an ever-growing audience on social networks, significantly rejuvenating its readership. 

The agreement with OpenAI is in line with the newspaper's strategy of reasoned innovation.  However, Le Monde's management is keen to reassure its journalists, and has taken the opportunity of signing this agreement to guarantee the total independence of its editorial staff.

The signatories of the agreement on Le Monde's side made it very clear that this new agreement would in no way hinder the freedom of its journalists to investigate the AI sector in general, and OpenAI in particular.

In conclusion, it will be very interesting to observe the impact of this historic agreement between Le Monde and Open AI on the entire press sector.

Perhaps the announcement of a future amicable agreement between the famous chat operator GPT and the New York Times, if the "French touch" emulates on the other side of the Atlantic?

Vincent Fauchoux
Image par Canva
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