Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI have been sued by programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick for breaking several policies, copyright terms, and laws that could amount to damages of over $9 billion.
The claim alleges that GitHub Copilot (opens in new tab), which is designed to translate natural language into code, violates the terms of open source licenses by being trained with machine learning using billions of lines of existing code written by human programmers.
BleepingComputer (opens in new tab) explains that open source licenses such as GPL, Apache, and MIT, require attribution of the author’s name, and defining particular copyrights.
GitHub Copilot copyright
One user took to Twitter (opens in new tab) after they had gone to GitHub Copilot to “see if it encodes code from repositories [with] restrictive licenses”. They found code that they had written at a previous employer “that has a license allowing its use only for free games and requiring attaching the license.”
“It appears Microsoft is profiting from others’ work by disregarding the conditions of the underlying open-source licenses and other legal requirements,” The San Francisco-based law firm representing Butterick explains on its webpage.
The class action complaint file, dated November 3, 2022, details how GitHub and OpenAI have violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) 3.6 million times.
This covers three Section 1202 violations for each of Copilot’s 1.2 million users. The three violations are for distributing the licensed materials without including attribution, a copyright notice, or license terms.
“At minimum statutory damages of $2500 per violation, that translates to [$9 billion],” Butterick’s law firm claims in the filing.
That’s a lot of money, given Microsoft acquired GitHub in 2018 for $7.5 billion.