SFC Responds to Big Tech's Disengenous Arguments in Copyright Office's “Artificial Intelligence Study”

December 11, 2023

After filing our initial comments in the Copyright Office's request for comments, SFC staff have remained engaged in the process — we've given particular attention to comments related to software freedom and rights as assured through copyleft licenses like the GPL. We advocate for your software rights and freedoms in many ways — including participation on public policy discussion of relevant issues, such as this Copyright Office study.

In this case, we're particularly glad to stay engaged. We discovered that we were the only charity to bring up issues of copyleft and the GPL with the Copyright Office. We appreciate so much the support of our donors so that we can show up to defend your rights regarding copyleft licenses. Meanwhile, Big Tech was all over this comment process undermining software rights. We were able to address, in particular, serious attacks on software rights from Microsoft — who dismissed as irrelevant copyright holders' rights with respect to copyleft licenses and the GPL. As we stated in our reply comment, directed primarily at Microsoft's attacks:

To concede Microsoft’s “fair use” claims would be the first step in eviscerating the copyleft licenses that protect the primary commons of software source code, which, in turn, comprise much of the software in Training Sets already in use for these Generative AI systems.

Microsoft seeks maximalist copyright protections, but only when convenient to their proprietary software business model and none in the providing the basis for creating ever more proprietary software. We stand for the users — to protect against corporations who unduly extract labor and profit from copyleft-licensed works. As our Policy Fellow Bradley M. Kuhn has previously written, community-led efforts must lean even stronger into the judo move of copyleft in the age of Generative AI; copyleft works because it reverses the power of copyright maximalism that Microsoft and other large corporations created to liberate users:

While we and other FOSS activists might support a full reconsideration of copyright rules for software from the ground-up, we do not think a piecemeal reworking of some rules in some contexts, particularly to merely serve the interests of large corporations, is in the interest of authors who do not have Big Tech’s resources. Such changes would be particularly toxic to those of us who have chosen to license our copyrights under copyleft licenses, which were specifically designed to assure full transparency and the complete sharing of source code.

Finally, our comments reiterated our timely concern: “compulsory licensing” for use in generative AI systems for copyrighted work such as copylefted software. Compulsory licensing typically finanically compensates authors for a use of their works, but we believe no amount of money should be sufficient to buy Big Tech “out of” their copyleft obligations to users and consumers.

You can read our full comments on our website — we'll update with the published link on the Copyright Office's site when available.

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