Aside from its challenges with its Activision acquisition deal, gaming business, and overall business performance, Microsoft is also facing another battle now after a group of programmers filed a class-action lawsuit against it, GitHub, and its tech partner OpenAI. According to the individuals involved, the legal action addresses the alleged intellectual property and open-source license violations committed by the AI system developed by the corporations.
@github copilot, with "public code" blocked, emits large chunks of my copyrighted code, with no attribution, no LGPL license. For example, the simple prompt "sparse matrix transpose, cs_" produces my cs_transpose in CSparse. My code on left, github on right. Not OK. pic.twitter.com/sqpOThi8nf
— Tim Davis (@DocSparse) October 16, 2022
The lawsuit highlights the AI-based coding tool Copilot, which was created and developed through the cooperation of Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI. The product is described as a tool being trained on billions of publicly-available codes, with Codex (the model it uses) “trained on tens of millions of public repositories.” However, programmers who tried the tool noticed it producing their own copyrighted code without attribution or license. This triggered concerns among other open-source programmers who now believe license violations are being committed by the tool. With this, programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick stepped in to lead the lawsuit.
“As a longtime open-source programmer, it was apparent from the first time I tried Copilot that it raised serious legal concerns, which have been noted by many others since Copilot was first publicly previewed in 2021,” said Butterick. “Because I’m also a lawyer, I felt compelled to stand up for the open-source community. I’ve known Joe since he started the Joseph Saveri Law Firm. He has built it into one of the finest class-action firms in the country. I’m pleased to be teaming up with Joe and his firm on behalf of the open-source programmers whose rights are being violated by Copilot.”
Butterick sought the help of the acclaimed class-action firm Joseph Saveri Law Firm, which focuses on antitrust law and complex civil and class-action litigation in federal and state courts in the USA. Joseph Saveri, the firm’s founder, described the lawsuit as a huge case against AI systems dishonestly benefitting from different individuals’ works and intellectual properties.
“I am grateful to the programmers and users who came forward to bring this case to fruition and ensure that corporations like Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI cannot unfairly profit from the work of open-source creators,” said Saveri. “This case represents the first major step in the battle against intellectual-property violations in the tech industry arising from artificial-intelligence systems. In this case, the work of open-source programmers is being exploited. But this will not be the last community of creators who are affected by AI systems. Our firm is committed to standing up for these creators and ensuring that companies developing AI products are held accountable under the law.”
This copyrighted code generation issue within Copilot also leads to further problems, which can even involve other individuals. As GitHub describes it in a document, the tool can produce code with “undesirable patterns,” which can translate to copyrighted code outputs. This means fully relying on Copilot for producing codes exposes you to the risk of lawsuits since you are informed of your responsibility regarding intellectual properties.