With OpenAI GPT Store imminent, apps are already being ripped off by copycats

Low-code gubbins may not be able to count on much platform protection

Updated OpenAI's GPT Store, expected to launch Wednesday – has been hyped as a replay of the Apple App Store gold rush of 2008.

In one respect it has already recaptured that heady period: Before the AI lab's souk has even opened its doors or clarified financial terms, developers have raised the alarm about copycat apps.

On Tuesday, Rebecca Nagel, VP of AI for B2B publisher 1105 Media, reported that her GPT app, Copy Edit Pro, had been copied without authorization, twice. It reminds us of the explosion of copycat apps in the Apple App Store back in the day.

At the moment, though the store is not publicly open, developers subscribed to ChatGPT Plus or Enterprise can already create custom GPTs, which can for now only be used by fellow paying subscribers. It appears these GPT apps can even now be shared and discovered via OpenAI's website for those users. The GPT Store, when live, is expected to become the main place to distribute those GPTs, and handle any revenue sharing that may arise. In the meantime, paying subscribers' GPT experiments are there for others to imitate.

"I never listed this on any sites," Nagel wrote of her GPT app. "I just made it public when I created it the week that GPTs came out. Also, this is just a test GPT I made as part of my job; it's more the principle of how can OpenAI expect people to invest time in GPTs if they can just be lifted?"

How can OpenAI expect people to invest time in GPTs if they can just be lifted?

That concern, which Nagel confirmed to The Register, is actively being discussed in the OpenAI developer forum. According to one individual posting there, "Currently it is possible to exactly copy an existing GPT, especially if it is built only using custom prompts and uploaded files. We are waiting for an update from OpenAI regarding this situation. Hopefully this can be partially fixed before the store is released."

Developers cited the copying worries last month and all pointed to the same OpenAI account as the copier. And a Reddit user has also flagged that account.

The problem these GPT makers face is that GPTs – customized instances of OpenAI's GPT-4 model – are typically little more than a text prompt describing a particular focus for the chat model and possibly some supporting files for fine-tuning.

OpenAI is launching what it calls the GPT Store, but GPTs, at least to date, are not standalone applications and as such are unlikely to spawn standalone businesses from within OpenAI's own interface. OpenAI does offer what it calls its Assistants API, for building native platform apps and web apps outside of OpenAI's website. But the GPT Store presently appears to be a dine-in experience, without a takeout option.

GPTs can be made complicated, with API calls to code and links to backend systems. However, those that are genuine low-code creations can expect all the protectability of a JavaScript bookmarklet or a command line snippet – which is to say not very much.

Nonetheless, the copying of store icons and descriptive text from GPT listings suggests OpenAI isn't keeping a close eye on GPT makers, all of whom are necessarily paying $20 a month for ChatGPT Plus (or are on an Enterprise plan) in order to have access to GPT app making tools and thus presumably could be coerced to behave.

OpenAI, which provides a mechanism for users to report abuse, did not respond to a request for comment.

Greg Gunn, co-founder and CEO of Commit, maker of an AI-assisted job search app, spoke with The Register about his firm's interest in the GPT Store. He said he believes OpenAI is aware of abuse and will deal with it.

"I've been a developer on a number of early-stage platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn," he said. "And one of the things that has impressed me so much about OpenAI is the velocity and the dedication of their team."

Gunn said his outfit is building an AI agent to help tech workers find and apply for jobs.

"We started automating this last year with the launch of plugins where we were one of the first 100 Chat GPT plugins," he explained. "We've been building on top of OpenAI since then, and have been really, really excited about how they've advanced their developer platform to allow us to get to a place where it's a pretty tight user experience, and we're excited about the launch."

Some of that excitement is based on faith, because OpenAI has not yet clarified how developers will get paid – probably through a share of revenue that OpenAI derives from app usage and the associated paid API. Currently, OpenAI requires users to have a ChatGPT Plus or higher tier subscription to try third-party GPTs in the ChatGPT interface. It's unclear whether there will be a way for people to access GPTs without a subscription, which would presumably shift the burden of collecting payment for API usage billing to the developer.

Gunn said there's some similarity with the 2008 Apple App Store launch in that both companies are making their platforms more accessible to developers.

"OpenAI absolutely has made it even more accessible to non-developers through the GPT creation flow," he explained. "The difference is that there were only six million iPhones sold by the time that Apple launched their App Store. There are 100 million weekly active users on ChatGPT. So yes, there's going to be a larger volume of developers because it's more accessible. But also because the opportunity is actually larger than the original iPhone App Store launch."

The opportunity is actually larger than the original iPhone App Store launch

Gunn said that the launch of ChatGPT Plugins last year showed some people will create nothing more than wrappers around existing functions, like headshot creation apps, which he said were quite popular for a while.

"Some people made a lot of money, but then that didn't have much of a moat," he explained. "So it goes back to regular entrepreneurial funding fundamentals, like what is your moat? What are you going to build that's going to create differentiation?"

In contrast to the coding work Commit has done, by building a real-time job ingestion engine, a system for matching developers to jobs, and GPT-4-based automatic application infrastructure, Gunn said those whose work consists of writing a few prompts won't be able to protect their work.

But Gunn sees the absence of a moat as a benefit for those interested in creating customized enterprise workflows. "I think that's where GPT builders are going to have the biggest impact when it comes to users," he said.


Artificial intelligence is a liability


Asked about the cost of relying on the OpenAI platform, Gunn said, "We've run the numbers. And we think about it as a cost of customer acquisition. So for companies like Commit that have our own standalone apps, with standalone prices that we're gonna be launching soon, we see the initial stage of the GPT store as a billboard and user acquisition channel."

Gunn sees OpenAI's platform being particularly useful for testing features without a lot of work on the client app or backend.

"The thing that I see is that unlike the Apple store, where you still need to have a front-end person that knows how to launch, here it's way more accessible for people to rapidly iterate and test and learn with their customers," he said.

"For example, one of the features we're launching for the first time tomorrow is a jobs market analysis feature where users can come into our app and then be able to track, 'Hey, how much is the average senior full stack engineer going up?'"

Gunn said that feature is not available in the company's core app, but it can still be tested without revising core app infrastructure.

"I think the next three months, there's gonna be tremendous learning, because this is absolutely a new distribution platform," said Gunn. "This is, to me, the next great platform after the iPhone." ®

Updated to add on January 10

The GPT Store is now live, as expected, with some details here. A revenue-sharing program is still in the works, starting with US builders in Q1 this year. It also launched another subscription plan: ChatGPT Team, which costs $25 per user per month when billed annually, or $30 if monthly.

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