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Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI ask court to throw out AI copyright lawsuit

Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI ask court to throw out AI copyright lawsuit


The three companies want to dismiss a complaint that alleges that the AI-powered Copilot relies on ‘software piracy on an unprecedented scale.’

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Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI claim the lawsuit doesn’t hold up.
Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI want the court to dismiss a proposed class action complaint that accuses the companies of scraping licensed code to build GitHub’s AI-powered Copilot tool, as reported earlier by Reuters. In a pair of filings submitted to a San Francisco federal court on Thursday, the Microsoft-owned GitHub and OpenAI say the claims outlined in the suit don’t hold up.

Launched in 2021, Copilot leverages OpenAI’s technology to generate and suggest lines of code directly within a programmer’s code editor. The tool, which is trained on publicly available code from GitHub, sparked concerns over whether it violates copyright laws soon after it was announced.

Things came to a head when programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick teamed up with the legal team at Joseph Saveri Law Firm to file a proposed class action lawsuit last November, alleging the tool relies on “software piracy on an unprecedented scale.” Butterick and his legal team later filed a second proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of two anonymous software developers on similar grounds, which is the suit Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI want dismissed.

As noted in the filing, Microsoft and GitHub say the complaint “fails on two intrinsic defects: lack of injury and lack of an otherwise viable claim,” while OpenAI similarly says the plaintiffs “allege a grab bag of claims that fail to plead violations of cognizable legal rights.” The companies argue that the plaintiffs rely on “hypothetical events” to make their claim and say they don’t describe how they were personally harmed by the tool.

“Copilot withdraws nothing from the body of open source code available to the public,” Microsoft and GitHub claim in the filing. “Rather, Copilot helps developers write code by generating suggestions based on what it has learned from the entire body of knowledge gleaned from public code.”

Additionally, Microsoft and GitHub go on to claim that the plaintiffs are the ones who “undermine open source principles” by asking for “an injunction and a multi-billion dollar windfall” in relation to the “software that they willingly share as open source.”

The court hearing to dismiss the suit will take place in May, and Joseph Saveri Law Firm didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

Despite the potential legal challenges hampering AI-powered tools, Microsoft has pledged billions of dollars to extend a long-term partnership with OpenAI. It’s also rumored to be looking into bringing AI technology to Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook and reportedly wants to add the AI chatbot ChatGPT to Bing.

With other companies looking into AI as well, Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI aren’t the only ones facing legal issues. Earlier this month, Butterick and Joseph Saveri Law Firm filed another lawsuit alleging the AI art tools created by Midjourney, Stability AI, and DeviantArt violate copyright laws by illegally scraping artists’ work from the internet. Getty Images is also suing Stability AI over claims the company’s Stable Diffusion tool “unlawfully” scraped images from the site.