GitHub Copilot Faces First Class-Action Against “Unfair” AI

“If companies like Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI choose to disregard the law,” a recently filed class-action lawsuit states, “they should not expect that we the public will sit still.”

The lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the artificial intelligence (AI) system behind GitHub Copilot. Copilot is a feature designed by Microsoft and OpenAI to help programmers write code better and faster; and according to the lawyers filing suit, it is using countless lines of codes with no proper permission, thus trampling on the rights of "possibly millions" of GitHub subscribers and violating the rules of many open-source licenses and several other copyright infringement laws.

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The class-action claims that 11 popular open-source licenses (such as MIT, GPL, and Apache) require the attribution of the author’s name and copyright. However, Copilot has never attempted any such attribution. The suit also claims that Copilot has violated Github’s own privacy policies and terms of service, as well as the California Consumer Privacy Act, U.S. code DMCA § 1202 (forbidding the removal of copyright management information), and "other laws giving rise to related legal claims."

Developed by OpenAI — which also created the image generating system known as DALL-E — Copilot is a machine learning (ML) algorithm designed to suggest code (and even entire functions) in real-time, directly from the preferred integrated development environment (IDE) of the coder.

The AI has been trained "on billions of lines of code," and it has demonstrated the capability across dozens of languages to turn natural language prompts into coding suggestions.

Nearly 30% of new code hosted on GitHub has been written with the assistance of the Copilot algorithm, while, argue the lawyers, systematically violating the "legal rights of a vast number of creators who posted code or other work under certain open-source licenses on GitHub."

This will be the first attempt in the U.S. to legally challenge the training and output of AI systems. The lawyers, however, believe it will be far from the last, because "AI systems are not exempt from the law," nor are their creators.

As the lawsuit states, AI needs to be fair and ethical for everyone, otherwise it will just become "another way for the privileged few to profit from the work of the many."