Microsoft AI lawsuit may change how all AI is made

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Artificial intelligence used to generate artwork, videos, music and more has been criticised due to its reliance on other works as a basis for new generations. This has led to AI art being banned in some places as human artists declare its works a form of plagiarism. As it turns out, a Microsoft AI is set to fight this claim in court.

Microsoft-owned code company GitHub has created an artificial intelligence program known as Copilot AI. This software allows an AI program to fill in strings of code for you in order to create functions.

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However, this has led to a new lawsuit claiming that generating code based on GitHub users’ code is a form of plagiarism. If the lawsuit succeeds, this may change the way that modern day AI is created forever. 

Headed by programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick, the lawsuit alleges that the Microsoft AI uses swathes of code without permission. The lawsuit even claims that the artificial intelligence program has been trained on code that should be paid for anyways, ignoring licenses and more.

Butterick states that Copilot AI relies on “software piracy on an unprecedented scale” in order to function. The lawsuit reads: “It is not fair, permitted, or justified. On the contrary, Copilot’s goal is to replace a huge swath of open source by taking it and keeping it inside a GitHub-controlled paywall. It violates the licenses that open-source programmers chose and monetizes their code despite GitHub’s pledge never to do so.”

The lawyer’s fight against the Microsoft AI focuses on the way in which it gathered data for its neural net. Butterick claims that Microsoft has violated GitHub’s terms of service as well as federal laws that require declaration of copyrighted material.

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That last part of Butterick’s lawsuit is what could spell trouble for all AI products that are available. AI art generators like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion work by scraping millions of images from the internet, usually without express permission. While this should be a huge issue of copyright, no one has taken these companies up on the matter.

In a blog post regarding the situation, via Giz, the lawyer said: ““If com­pa­nies like Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI choose to dis­re­gard the law, they should not expect that we the pub­lic will sit still. AI needs to be fair & eth­i­cal for every­one. If it’s not, then it can never achieve its vaunted aims of ele­vat­ing human­ity. It will just become another way for the priv­i­leged few to profit from the work of the many.”

The main issue with crediting or compensating artists for images generated with AI is the fact that millions of images are used at any given time. While AI has been proven to completely plagiarise a design or art style from an established artist, oftentimes multiple styles are mixed to create a unique image.

It’s a very complex issue, but one that has a simple solution: AI datasets should only include assets that have been granted to the company with express permission. If that’s done, then no copyright issues would arise… maybe.