The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published five of the white papers it funded regarding questions about M$ Copilot [fsf.org]. After M$ 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) [gnu.org] 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 [fsf.org], 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 [gnu.org] 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. M$ 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 [hbr.org] brought in by GitHub.
(2021) GitHub’s Automatic Coding Tool Rests on Untested Legal Ground [soylentnews.org]
(2020) GitHub Revamps Copyright Takedown Policy After Restoring YouTube-dl [soylentnews.org]
(2018) Microsoft Agrees to Acquire GitHub... for $7.5 Billion [Updated] [soylentnews.org]
(2014) Atom, GitHub's Editor Now Open Source [soylentnews.org]