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One of Fanfiction’s Most Notorious Genres Just Exposed AI Program Ripping Off Authors

A young Black woman holding her laptop in one hand and pointing at it with the other, with an expression of delight and surprise.

One of the biggest issues with AI-generated writing and visual art is that the work produced by AI could not exist without the ability to steal from actual human artists. Companies use these words and images to avoid paying artists while programmers scrape the internet for “free”—a.k.a. non-copywritten art and writing—they can train their machine with. One target of these developers in particular has been fanfiction, due to the fact that it is long-form writing that cannot be copyrighted since the characters are already copyrighted by the parent property.

We know for certain that these developers are using fanfiction for their AI, thanks to a genre called A/B/O or alpha/beta/omega, also occasionally referred to as “omegaverse.”

What is Omegaverse?

This trope originated in fanfiction and has since branched out into its own erotic genre; it was based on the pseudo-science of wolves having an “alpha” of the pack, with others being betas (generally the most ‘normal’ of the pack but generally infertile) or omegas (who are generally categorized by their heats, ability to bear children, and mating for life with a chosen alpha). It’s a popular trope in fanfiction, as applied to characters in Supernatural and other fandoms. It’s extremely sexual and involves a lot of terminology specifically created for the genre.

A/B/O is a very complicated trope, of which almost everyone has their own definition and preferred dynamics, but what you need to know is that it’s controversial. Anyone who doesn’t know about it from fanfiction directly might still have heard about it from watching Lindsay Ellis’ videos about a professionally published author’s attempt to copyright the trope and intimidate fellow A/B/O authors into taking down their own books.

The AI A/B/O Litmus Test

As Wired’s Rose Eveleth wrote in a recent extensive article, “Because the Omegaverse has such specific terms and phrases associated with it, ones that are found within fan fiction and nowhere else, it’s an ideal way to test how generative AI systems are scraping the web.” Normally, it’s nearly impossible to tell what information has gone into programming an AI platform. But one program in particular, Sudowrite, was shown to be so familiar with the Omegaverse and its related terms that there’s no question it had some of its data scraped from sites like Archive of our Own (AO3).

This is evidence that could be used as proof of appropriating authors’ works without compensation or credit.

Of course, that doesn’t seem to bother the people who run these programs; when James Yu, chief technology officer of Sudowrite was confronted with a Reddit post detailing how his AI stole from Omegaverse fic, he seemed more interested in the vast data set, saying it was “like an endless ocean.” When asked about compensation for writers, he deflected blame by saying, “If someone (OpenAI? Google?) were to offer this, we’d try it out immediately.”

So, basically, it’s OpenAI’s fault for exploiting writers, but he built his business using OpenAI. I know this is par for the course with big tech companies, but it also highlights that we needed legislation for these programs yesterday. 

Until we get those, I guess we’ll just have to use A/B/O prompts to sniff out which AIs are stealing from fanfiction writers.

(featured image: Deagreez/Getty Images)

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Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.