Brian Hood, the mayor of Hepburn Shire in regional Australia, has threatened to sue OpenAI if ChatGPT’s false claims about him serving time in prison for bribery are not corrected. Hood’s concern about his reputation arose after members of the public informed him that ChatGPT had falsely named him as a guilty party in a foreign bribery scandal involving a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia in the early 2000s. However, lawyers representing Hood have stated that although he did work for the subsidiary, Note Printing Australia, he was the person who notified authorities about payment of bribes to foreign officials to win currency printing contracts and was never charged with a crime.
Hood’s lawyers sent a letter of concern to ChatGPT owner OpenAI on March 21, which gave OpenAI 28 days to fix the errors about their client or face a possible defamation lawsuit. OpenAI, which is based in San Francisco, has not responded to Hood’s legal letter, the lawyers said. If Hood sues, it would likely be the first time a person has sued the owner of ChatGPT for claims made by the automated language product which has become wildly popular since its launch last year. Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT) integrated ChatGPT into its search engine Bing in February. A Microsoft spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
According to James Naughton, a partner at Hood’s law firm Gordon Legal, if Hood files a lawsuit, it would be a landmark moment in applying defamation law to a new area of artificial intelligence and publication in the IT space. Naughton added that Hood’s reputation is central to his role as an elected official and he relied on a public record of shining a light on corporate misconduct. Therefore, it makes a difference to him if people in his community are accessing false information about him.
Defamation damages payouts in Australia are generally capped around A$400,000 ($269,360). Hood is unsure of the exact number of people who have accessed the false information about him, which is a determinant of the payout size. However, Naughton said the nature of the defamatory statements was serious enough that Hood may claim more than A$200,000. If Hood files a lawsuit, it would accuse ChatGPT of giving users a false sense of accuracy by failing to include footnotes, according to Naughton. He also said that it is challenging for someone to understand how the algorithm comes up with an answer since it’s very opaque.