Programmers filed a class action lawsuit against GitHub, its parent company Microsoft, and OpenAI for allegedly violating open-source licenses. They also alleged that OpenAI and Microsoft used their code to train their new AI tool, GitHub Copilot.
GitHub Copilot was launched in June and offered code suggestions and functions to GitHub users. Codex is an AI system created by OpenAI and licensed to Microsoft. Copilot uses Codex. OpenAI claims Codex was developed on millions of public repositories and is “a case of transformative fair usage.” But GitHub programmers disagree and argue that Codex violated their open-source licenses. These licenses allow for non-commercial redistribution of code but not modification. There are often restrictions, including the requirement to keep the authors’ names.
Matthew Butterick, a lawyer and a programmer, has led the action against Microsoft. He started a website dedicated to the GitHub Copilot Investigation. The Joseph Saveri Law Firm also joined him in filing the class-action lawsuit.
Butterick stated in a press release that Copilot raised legal concerns from the very beginning. “As an open-source programmer for many years, it was obvious when I first tried it. Many others like me have also noted it since the beginning. “Because of my legal background, I felt the need to support open-source communities.”
Others who have used Copilot reported (tweet 1 and tweet 2) that the program generated an incorrect license for their code and that users were given copyrighted codes verbatim without proper attribution.
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, A spokesperson of GitHub stated that they were committed to innovating responsibly using Copilot.
Many users expressed concern over how the biggest open-source community would be affected by the Microsoft purchase of GitHub in 2018. Microsoft launched a series of attacks on Linux, an open-source operating system, in the 2000s and 1990s. They claimed that it had violated 235 Microsoft patents.
Joseph Saveri, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said he is grateful to programmers and users for helping to bring this case to fruition. He also stated that OpenAI, Microsoft, GitHub, and GitHub could not unfairly profit off the work of open-source creators.
“This case represents the first significant step in the battle against intellectual-property violations in the tech industry arising from artificial intelligence systems. This case exploits the open-source programming work of programmers. AI systems will affect many creators. Our firm will stand up for these creators and ensure that companies creating AI products are held responsible under the law.
The lawsuit is a sign of growing concern among programmers, artists, and others, that AI systems could be using their code, artwork, or other data without their permission. Image-generating AI tools like DALL-E or Stable Diffusion use algorithms to scrape billions upon billions of pages of data from the internet. This is without considering whether their usage violates any licensing or ownership restrictions. Copyright concerns have led to companies like Shutterstock and Getty Images banning AI images on their platforms.
Butterick claims that Microsoft’s offer of Copilot to programmers as an alternative to open-source code violates copyright and removes the incentive for them to look into open-source communities. Butterick believes that Microsoft’s separation of open-source codes is against the spirit of open-source programming.
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