Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI are facing a class action lawsuit accusing the companies of scraping licensed code to develop GitHub’s AI-powered Copilot tool. But the tech giants are not backing down and have asked the San Francisco federal court to dismiss the complaint. The lawsuit, filed by programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick and the Joseph Saveri Law Firm, claims that Copilot relies on “software piracy on an unprecedented scale.”
Copilot, launched in 2021, is an AI tool that generates and suggests lines of code directly within a programmer’s code editor. Trained on publicly available code from GitHub, it raised concerns over whether it violated copyright laws shortly after its release. The lawsuit alleges that the tool violated the plaintiffs’ legal rights.
In a filing submitted to the court, Microsoft and GitHub claim that the complaint “fails on two intrinsic defects: lack of injury and lack of an otherwise viable claim.” OpenAI also says that the plaintiffs’ claims fail to plead violations of cognizable legal rights. The companies argue that the plaintiffs rely on hypothetical events and don’t describe how they were personally harmed by the tool.
Microsoft and GitHub state that Copilot “withdraws nothing from the body of open source code available to the public” and “helps developers write code by generating suggestions based on what it has learned from the entire body of knowledge gleaned from public code.” They also claim that the plaintiffs undermine open source principles by asking for an injunction and a multi-billion dollar windfall in relation to software that they share as open source.
The court hearing to dismiss the lawsuit is set for May. If Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI are successful in dismissing the complaint, it would pave the way for AI-powered tools to continue to flourish. Despite the potential legal hurdles, Microsoft has pledged billions of dollars to extend its partnership with OpenAI and is rumoured to be bringing AI technology to Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Meanwhile, other companies are also facing legal challenges, with Butterick and Joseph Saveri Law Firm filing another lawsuit alleging that AI art tools created by MidJourney, stability AI, and DeviantArt violated copyright laws by scraping artists’ work from the internet.