Last month, developer and lawyer Matthew Butterick announced that he’d partnered with the Joseph Saveri Law Firm to investigate whether Copilot infringed on the rights of developers by scraping their code and not providing due attribution.
This could unwittingly cause serious legal problems for GitHub Copilot users.
“Copilot leaves copyleft compliance as an exercise for the user. Users likely face growing liability that only increases as Copilot improves,” wrote Bradley M. Kuhn of Software Freedom Conservancy earlier this year.
“Users currently have no methods besides serendipity and educated guesses to know whether Copilot’s output is copyrighted by someone else.”
Copilot is powered by Codex, an AI system created by OpenAI and licensed to Microsoft. Codex currently offers suggestions on how to finish a line but Microsoft has touted its ability to suggest larger blocks of code, like the entire body of a function.
Butterick and litigators from the Joseph Saveri Law Firm have now filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI in a US federal court in San Francisco.
In addition to violating attribution requirements of open-source licenses, the claimants allege the defendants have violated:
- GitHub’s own terms of service and privacy policies;
- DMCA § 1202, which forbids the removal of copyright-management information;
- the California Consumer Privacy Act;
- and other laws giving rise to related legal claims.
The claimants acknowledge that this is the first step in what will likely be a long journey.
In a post on the claim’s website, Butterick wrote:
“As far as we know, this is the first class-action case in the US challenging the training and output of AI systems. It will not be the last. AI systems are not exempt from the law.
Those who create and operate these systems must remain accountable. If companies like Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI choose to disregard the law, they should not expect that we the public will sit still.
AI needs to be fair & ethical for everyone. If it’s not, then it can never achieve its vaunted aims of elevating humanity. It will just become another way for the privileged few to profit from the work of the many.”
AI News will keep you updated on the progress of the lawsuit as it emerges.
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