Apple has opened negotiations in recent weeks with major news and publishing organizations, seeking permission to use their material in the company’s development of generative artificial intelligence systems, according to four people familiar with the discussions.
The technology giant has floated multiyear deals worth at least $50 million to license the archives of news articles, said the people with knowledge of talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. The news organizations contacted by Apple include Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue and The New Yorker; NBC News; and IAC, which owns People, The Daily Beast and Better Homes and Gardens.
The negotiations mark one of the earliest examples of how Apple is trying to catch up to rivals in the race to develop generative A.I., which allows computers to create images and chat like a human. The technology, which artificial intelligence experts refer to as neural networks, is built by using troves of photos or digital text to recognize patterns. By analyzing thousands of cat photos, for instance, a computer can learn to recognize a cat.
Microsoft, OpenAI, Google, Meta and other companies have released chatbots and other products built with the technology. The tools could change the way people work and generate billions of dollars in sales.
But Apple has been absent from the public discussion of A.I. Its virtual assistant, Siri, has remained largely stagnant in the decade since its release.
A spokeswoman for Apple declined to comment. During a call with analysts last month, Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, said Apple has work “going on” connected to A.I. but declined to elaborate.
Some of the publishers contacted by Apple were lukewarm on the overture. After years of on-again-off-again commercial deals with tech companies like Meta, the owner of Facebook, publishers have grown wary of jumping into business with Silicon Valley.
Several publishing executives were concerned that Apple’s terms were too expansive, according to three people familiar with the negotiations. The initial pitch covered broad licensing of publishers’ archives of published content, with publishers potentially on the hook for any legal liabilities that could stem from Apple’s use of their content.
Apple was also vague about how it intended to apply generative A.I. to the news industry, the people said, a potential competitive risk given Apple’s substantial audience for news on its devices.
Still, some news executives were optimistic that Apple’s approach might eventually lead to a meaningful partnership. Two people familiar with the discussions struck a positive note on the long-term prospects of a deal, contrasting Apple’s approach of asking for permission with behavior from other artificial intelligence-enabled companies, which have been accused of seeking licensing deals with news organizations after they had already used their content to train its generative models.
In recent years, Apple executives have been debating how to accumulate the data needed to build generative A.I. products, according to two people familiar with the work. Some of its rivals have been accused of taking written material from across the internet without the permission of the artists, writers and coders who created it, leading to several copyright lawsuits.
Apple has been reluctant to take information from the internet, partly because of its commitment to privacy. After it acquired the social analytics start-up Topsy in 2013, Apple’s leadership asked that Topsy stop collecting information from Twitter, saying that doing so violated the company’s policy against collecting data on Apple customers, who might also post on the social media site, these two people said.
The explosion of artificial intelligence has raised alarms among news executives, many of whom are concerned that generative A.I. products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT could draw in readers who would otherwise consume their news on platforms for their own subscribers and advertisers.
Print news organizations, which decades ago saw their lucrative classifieds business demolished by online competitors, have been particularly wary about striking deals with A.I. organizations, engaging cautiously with an eye toward preserving their existing businesses.
In a statement, an OpenAI spokesman said that the company respects “the rights of content creators and owners and believes they should benefit from A.I. technology,” citing its recent deals with the American Journalism Project and the German publisher Axel Springer.
“We’re optimistic we will continue to find mutually beneficial ways to work together in support of a rich news ecosystem,” the OpenAI spokesman said.