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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 01 2022, @02:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the acquisition-for-30x-annual-recurring-revenue dept.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published five of the white papers it funded regarding questions about Microsoft Copilot. After Microsoft acquired GitHub, it set up a machine learning system to cull through its archive of software, called Copilot. The approach chosen and even the basic activity raises many questions starting with those of licensing.

Microsoft GitHub's announcement of an AI-driven Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) program called Copilot -- which uses machine learning to autocomplete code for developers as they write software -- immediately raised serious questions for the free software movement and our ability to safeguard user and developer freedom. We felt these questions needed to be addressed, as a variety of serious implications were foreseen for the free software community and developers who use GitHub. These inquiries -- and others possibly yet to be discovered -- needed to be reviewed in depth.

In our call for papers, we set forth several areas of interest. Most of these areas centered around copyright law, questions of ownership for AI-generated code, and legal impacts for GitHub authors who use a GNU or other copyleft license(s) for their works. We are pleased to announce the community-provided research into these areas, and much more.

First, we want to thank everyone who participated by sending in their papers. We received a healthy response of twenty-two papers from members of the community. The papers weighed-in on the multiple areas of interest we had indicated in our announcement. Using an anonymous review process, we concluded there were five papers that would be best suited to inform the community and foster critical conversations to help guide our actions in the search for solutions.

These five submissions are not ranked, and we decided it best to just let the papers speak for themselves. The papers contain opinions with which the Free Software Foundation (FSF) may or may not agree, and any views expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent the FSF. They were selected because we thought they advanced discussion of important questions, and did so clearly. To that end, the FSF is not providing any summaries of the papers or elaborating on our developing positions until we can learn further, through the community, how best to view the situation.

The FSF has also arranged upcoming discussions regarding these white papers. Microsoft bought GitHub in 2018 for $7.5 billion in stock, which if it had been real money instead it would have been 30 times the annual recurring revenue brought in by GitHub.

(2021) GitHub's Automatic Coding Tool Rests on Untested Legal Ground
(2020) GitHub Revamps Copyright Takedown Policy After Restoring YouTube-dl
(2018) Microsoft Agrees to Acquire GitHub... for $7.5 Billion [Updated]
(2014) Atom, GitHub's Editor Now Open Source

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday March 01 2022, @02:54AM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday March 01 2022, @02:54AM (#1225758)

    The Melancholy Elephants of C++ may be more numerous, with greater combinatorial space than the ones plying a 12 tone musical scale, but in the end... there are only so many ways to write certain phrases of code.

    Much of my best Qt code is lifted verbatim from the API documentation. It's clear, readable, and anybody who doesn't understand what it is doing can copy it into a Google search and get the full API documentation around the snippet.

    I suppose I should try CoPilot before taking a position, but until CoPilot starts coughing up nuggets like: "It looks like you're writing a music playlist database, would you like to try one of these?" copying little code snippets is like accidentally quoting movie lines - there are so many movies already made that you can't avoid repeating short phrases from several every time you speak.

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