Microsoft Github Copilot code generator

Released: June 2021

Copilot is a cloud-based automated code generation tool launched by software development community Github in June 2021. Initially launched as a limited access 'technical preview', it became available by subscription to developers in June 2022.

Developed in conjunction with OpenAI, Copilot was developed using OpenAI's Codex algorithm, which is based on its GPT-3 language generating algorithm, and trained on publically available source code of different projects in Github repositories. 

Copyright 'code laundering'

The response to Copilot has been mixed. Programmers have generally welcomed it, but others have pointed out that Copilot  reproduces large chunks of copyrighted code verbatim without attributing their owners, raising questions about 'fair use' and licensing and opening it to accusations of copyright abuse and 'code laundering'.

Lawyers are divided on whether Github and OpenAI's use of public repositories can be considered fair use given Copilot draws extensively on code available under many different types of public license, only some of which require attribution for derivative works.

Class-action lawsuit

In October 2022, programmer and lawyer Matthew Butterick and the Joseph Saveri law firm announced they were launching a class-action lawsuit against Github, Microsoft and OpenAI for training Copilot using open-source code without the permission of its developers or users.

Operator: Microsoft/Github
Developer: Microsoft/Github; OpenAI
Country: USA
Sector: Technology
Purpose: Generate code
Technology: NLP/text analysis
Issue: Copyright; Ethics; Privacy
Transparency: Governance

Legal, regulatory 👩🏼‍⚖️

Page info
Type: System
Published: July 2021
Last updated: April 2023