GitHub users file class action lawsuit against Microsoft

Programmers, artists and others who use GitHub Copilot, launched in June, are concerned about the interference of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. In response to this, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Microsoft, something that, as we discussed in a previous post, was being planned. The focus of the debate is on the training of an AI tool and on the code that this source-creating platform generates. Codex is the AI system created by OpenAI and licensed from Microsoft that is in the limelight.

OpenAI reported that Codex was trained on “millions of public repositories” and is “an instance of just transforming”. However, the open source programmers at GitHub do not share this opinion. For them, Codex has violated open source licenses, which only allow non-commercial redistribution and modification of code. Often, there are restrictions, including the requirement to preserve the name of the authors.

Matthew Butterick, a lawyer and programmer, is leading the action against Microsoft. The first step was the creation of a site entirely dedicated to GitHub Copilot research. In addition, he partnered with the law firm Joseph Saveri to pursue the class action lawsuit against the tech giant.

In defense of open source on GitHub

Butterick, in a press release, made it clear that “as a long-time open source programmer, it was evident from the first time I tested Copilot that it raised serious legal concerns, which have been noted by many others since Copilot was first shown publicly in 2021.” Taking advantage of his office, in the continuation of the press release, he made the statement that “as I am also a lawyer, I felt obliged to defend the open source community”.

Many of the programmers who have been using Copilot noticed that an incorrect license was generated for the code. This has resulted in users’ copyrighted code, word for word, being properly attributed or licensed. Asked by Motherboard, a GitHub spokesperson commented on the lawsuit that “we have been committed to innovating responsibly with Copilot from the beginning and will continue to evolve the product to better serve developers around the world.”

A long-standing problem

In 2018 was the purchase of GitHub by Microsoft and, already at that time, many users have expressed concern about how the world’s largest open source community would be affected. In the late 1990s, the same company had launched a campaign against Linux, an open source operating system, on the grounds that it infringed 235 patents held by the creator of Windows.

Attorney Joseph Saveri also commented, making it clear that he was “grateful to the programmers and users who stepped up to bring this cso to a successful conclusion and ensure that corporations like Microsoft, GitHub and OpenAI cannot unfairly profit from the work of open source creators”. The demand represents a growing concern for users of these AI-based systems. The algorithms of this tool extract data from millions of websites without verifying whether intellectual property or license restrictions are violated.