Microsoft commits to legally protect users of its AI services

The Copilot Copyright Commitment will shield users from IP infringement claims

Microsoft said it has defended its users against patent claims relating to its products in the past. AP
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Microsoft has committed to legally protect its customers if they are sued for using the company's artificial intelligence services, as the use of more advanced iterations of the technology become more widespread.

The Copilot Copyright Commitment will shield users from the risk of intellectual property infringement claims if they use the generative AI output from its Copilot AI service, the Washington-based company said in a post on its website on Thursday.

Copilot is Microsoft's AI assistant for its suite of Microsoft applications and services, which include desktop apps such as Word and Excel, and enterprise products.

The initiative extends the company's existing intellectual property indemnity support to its commercial Copilot services and builds on its previous AI customer commitments announced in June, it said.

"While these transformative tools open doors to new possibilities, they are also raising new questions," Brad Smith, vice chairman and president, and Hossein Nowbar, corporate vice president and chief legal officer, wrote in the post.

"This is understandable, given recent public inquiries by authors and artists regarding how their own work is being used in conjunction with AI models and services.

"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."

The executives pointed out that Microsoft has defended users against patent claims relating to its products for more than two decades, and the company's latest initiative is an expansion of this cover.

"We are charging our commercial customers for our Copilots, and if their use creates legal issues, we should make this our problem rather than our customers’ problem," they said.

AI gained momentum with the introduction of generative AI, which rose to prominence thanks to ChatGPT, the language model-based tool made by Microsoft-backed OpenAI.

Its sudden rise has also raised questions about how data is used in AI models and how the law applies to the output of those models, such as a paragraph of text or a computer-generated image.

Microsoft was already dragged into a class action lawsuit late last year when a number of coders sued the company, its subsidiary GitHub and OpenAI, alleging that their creation of Copilot relied on "software piracy on an unprecedented scale" and seeking damages of $9 billion. A ruling is set on September 14.

Last month, National Public Radio reported that The New York Times was considering filing a case against OpenAI to protect the IP rights associated with its reporting.

The publication and the ChatGPT maker had been in "tense" negotiations over a licensing deal in which OpenAI would pay the Times for incorporating its stories in the technology company's AI tools, but the discussions "have become so contentious", it said.

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"Even where existing copyright law is clear, generative AI is raising new public policy issues and shining a light on multiple public goals. We believe the world needs AI to advance the spread of knowledge and help solve major societal challenges," Mr Smith and Mr Nowbar said.

"Yet it is critical for authors to retain control of their rights under copyright law and earn a healthy return on their creations. And we should ensure that the content needed to train and ground AI models is not locked up in the hands of one or a few companies in ways that would stifle competition and innovation."

Updated: September 08, 2023, 6:56 AM