Microsoft Steps into Generative AI's Legal Morass with Copilot Copyright Pledge

As copyright challenges to generative AI tech ramp up, Microsoft offers legal protection to Copilot users.

To protect users of its AI-powered services, Microsoft this week pledged to take legal responsibility for any copyright disputes that may arise from customers' use of Copilot.     

The so-called Copilot Copyright Commitment from Microsoft represents just one attempt by a tech giant to  address growing concerns about intellectual property infringement related to generative AI technologies.

"As customers ask whether they can use Microsoft's Copilot services and the output they generate without worrying about copyright claims, we are providing a straightforward answer: yes, you can, and if you are challenged on copyright grounds, we will assume responsibility for the potential legal risks involved," wrote Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a statement announcing the policy.

The commitment is Microsoft's attempt to create a "shared AI journey," per Smith, that fosters the use of and experimentation around AI technology, while removing at least some of the potential legal hurdles. 

"It is our responsibility to help manage these risks by listening to and working with others in the tech sector, authors and artists and their representatives, government officials, the academic community, and civil society," said Smith.

Microsoft said that it's able to guarantee protection for its customers via guardrails and filters that are already in place in all versions of Copilot to ensure that the generative AI tech does not return copyright infringed content to the user. These include "classifiers, metaprompts, content filtering and operational monitoring and abuse detection." 

The company did stipulate that if a user does not properly use the guardrails, or attempts to circumnavigate the built-in filters, the Copilot Copyright Commitment is not guaranteed.

This week's announced commitment not only assures that customers will be protected, but that Microsoft is also committed to protecting the copyright works of creators, and will continue to take steps to ensure the language models are not learning from protected works.

Generative AI has come into legal focus of late in a handful of cases, including comedian Sarah Silverman's lawsuit against OpenAI in July. She alleged that OpenAI's ChatGPT did not have her permission to ingest the digital version of her book, and that the information used to provide a synopsis allegedly came from a pirated version.

Microsoft has also taken direct fire over copyright issues with a case arising from its Github Copilot feature. A lawsuit was brought against Microsoft in December that the service used the plaintiff's code when generating content for users. Microsoft filed a motion to dismiss the case in July, with the hearing on dismissal set to take place on Sept. 14.

About the Author

Chris Paoli (@ChrisPaoli5) is the associate editor for Converge360.