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Andreessen Horowitz would like everyone to stop talking about AI's copyright issues, please

Marc Andreessen, left, and his longtime business partner, Ben Horowitz.
Marc Andreessen, left, and his longtime business partner, Ben Horowitz.AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
  • The famed VC firm is fighting alongside Big Tech against potential copyright rules on AI.

  • a16z sees any requirement to pay for copyrighted AI training data as detrimental to its investments.

  • Using copyrighted data for free is the basis of "enormous investment" in AI, the VC firm said.

Andreessen Horowitz is warning that billions of dollars in AI investments could be worth a lot less if companies developing the technology are forced to pay for the copyrighted data that makes it work.

The VC firm said AI investments are so huge that any new rules around the content used to train models "will significantly disrupt" the investment community's plans and expectations around the technology, according to comments submitted to the US Copyright Office.

"The bottom line is this," the firm, known as a16z, wrote. "Imposing the cost of actual or potential copyright liability on the creators of AI models will either kill or significantly hamper their development."

The USCO is considering new rules on AI that specifically address the tech industry's free use of owned and copyrighted content to train large language models.

A16z argued that the "only practical way" LLMs can be trained is via huge amounts of copyrighted content and data, including, "something approaching the entire corpus of the written word" and "an enormous cross-section of all of the publicly available information ever published on the internet."

The VC firm has invested in scores of AI companies and startups based on its "expectation" that all this copyrighted content was and will remain available as training data through "fair use," with no payment required.

National security

"Those expectations have been a critical factor in the enormous investment of private capital into US-based AI companies," a16z said. "Undermining those expectations will jeopardize future investment, along with U.S. economic competitiveness and national security."

The firm praised the current US copyright system for striking the right balance between "protection expression" and supporting "non-exploitive" uses of copyrighted material.

"By the same token, the best way to lose the United States' current leadership in the burgeoning AI industry—along with economic competitiveness and national security benefits that leadership brings—is by rushing to pass legislation that undermines the long-standing and principled approach to copyright law that has made this country both a creative and technological leader," it wrote.

Instead of spending time on making new laws that would explicitly address AI, the VC firm said the USCO should "embrace it wholeheartedly."

"We cannot afford to be outpaced in areas like cybersecurity, intelligence operations, and modern warfare, all of which are being transformed by this frontier technology," a16z added.

Techno-warning

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the firm, is no stranger to dramatic pronouncements. In a lengthy "techno-optimist" manifesto published last month, the billionaire said any slow down in AI development is effectively "murder," because of the technology's potential medical benefits.

The core issue for a16z, however, is not national supremacy or security, but money, according to its comments to the USCO, which were made public recently.

The firm said payment for all of the copyrighted material already used in LLMs would cost the companies that built them "tens or hundreds of billions of dollars a year in royalty payments."

It also noted that the largest tech companies "might be able to afford to license copyrighted training data."

Most of the companies that a16z backs are smaller startups without such huge budgets.

"Smaller, more agile startups will be shut out of the development race entirely," a16z wrote.

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