April 19, 2024

IAC chairman Barry Diller thinks the media business cannot afford to make the same mistake twice.

Twenty-five years ago, publishers saw the rise of the internet and made a fateful choice.

“When the internet first began, everything was free. And it was kind of decreed at that time that everything was free, and therefore all publishers said they really had no other choice,” Diller said, speaking to Semafor co-founder Ben Smith at the Semafor Media Summit in New York on Monday evening.

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Now, with the rise of generative artificial intelligence, Diller thinks those same companies need to take a different approach.

“The amount of destruction that took place at the beginning when it was declared a free media was enormous,” he said. “And I think that today is potentially analogous to that, which is if publishers do not say, ‘You cannot scrape our content, you cannot take it, you cannot take it transformatively’ — to get to the keyword in ‘fair use’ — ‘you cannot take it and use it in real time to actually cannibalize everything.’ And if you think that won’t happen, I think you’re just being a fool.”

To hear Diller tell it, the media industry has a short window to take action before it risks repeating those lessons from the dawn of the internet age.

“You can do it two ways: The industry can get together and say, ‘We’ve got enough people on our side to stop it.’ The other side is more difficult to do, but companies can absolutely sue under copyright law, copyright infringement will give you $150,000 per slug if you can do it,” he added. “The point is that publishers get immediately active and absolutely institute litigation, but also have a mass position of saying, ‘We are not going to let what happened out of free internet happen to post-AI internet if we can help it.’”

Diller, who says OpenAI founder Sam Altman is a “close friend” — “I think he’s sympathetic [to publishers] but also I think he realizes the dragon that he’s got, and that what is going to happen is inevitable” — went on to say that the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“It’s going to be up-to-date, real time. If all the world’s information is able to be sucked up in this maw, and then essentially repackaged in declarative sentences in what’s called chat but isn’t chat … there will be no publishing; it is not possible,” Diller added ominously.

As is often the case in these types of interviews, Diller also weighed in on a number of other topics, from Succession (he doesn’t watch but thought the first episode was “funny” but “really stupid”) to the current state of Hollywood, where he agreed with Smith that the leadership of the Hollywood studios was too old and out of touch.

“At its best, that kind of editorship, which is what running those companies are, it’s making choices between this film or that film, or this project or that project … experience is not the great helper here because usually, your instincts over time get cynical and corroded,” Diller said. “If you want to take risks, and if you don’t want to take risk creatively, you’re not going to have much. I think it’s all become too old and too suited.”

And he also dismissed the Dominion defamation suit against Fox News as not being particularly impactful to that company. When asked by Smith how big a risk the suit was to Fox, Diller replied, “De minimis.”

“I think — I hope — [Fox will] lose. I think they should lose. And I think [Dominion] could get a very big award. So what? They’ll pay it,” Diller added. “What is it going to do? Is it going to worsen Rupert Murdoch’s reputation? Good luck to you.”