Software Freedom Preservationa non-profit organization that provides support and legal services for open source software projects, has called on the open source community to GitHub . to dump after leaving the code hosting and collaboration platform itself.
The move comes a week after Microsoft-owned GitHub launched the commercial version of Copilot, an AI-powered pair programmer that collaborates with software developers by suggesting rules or functions as they type. It’s a bit like Gmail’s Smart Compose feature, which aims to speed up writing your email by suggesting the next piece of text in your message using contextual cues.
Software Freedom Conservancy is: financially supported by a number of major companies, such as Google, Red Hat and Mozilla, and its members include more than 40 projectsincluding git (which GitHub relies heavily on), Seleniumand godot†
While the Software Freedom Conservancy’s problem with GitHub predates Copilot by some margin, it seems that GitHub’s latest launch is the last straw. The crux of the problem, and a point of contention in software development since its debut last year, is that Copilot is its own service built on top of the hard work of the open source community. Indeed, Copilot was developed in collaboration with OpenAI, an AI research organization that Microsoft invested $1 billion in in 2019, and relies on OpenAI Codex in content, which is trained on a massive amount of public source code and natural language models.
Copilot raises some important questions about: Who actually wrote a piece of software. If Copilot has “borrowed” code from one project and proposes it to the author of another, will this open the floodgates for copyright infringement lawsuits? “Open source” doesn’t mean completely free, and there are still licensing requirements to meet and attributions to include. There’s also been a lot of discussions about what fair-use entails, as well as questions about the lack of transparency that Copilot is raising, with Software Freedom Conservancy’s Bradley M. Kuhn wrote a piece last year called If software is my copilot, who programmed my software?†
Given that the spirit of open source software is centered on the idea that everyone is working together for the greater good, with no party benefiting more than another, GitHub decides to launch Copilot for $10 a month (although for some developers it is free) with minimal understanding of the specific data it used to train the system, Software Freedom Conservancy has now taken a stand. What this means is that the organization itself is ceasing its own use of GitHub internally and introducing a program to help its member projects transition away from GitHub. In addition, it said it won’t accept new members who don’t have a clear plan to migrate their open source projects away from GitHub.
“We had been thinking about this promotion for a while ourselves, but last week’s event [Copilot launch] showed that this action is too late,” the organization wrote in a statement blog post†
While many in the community may disagree with GitHub’s latest approach to monetizing the work of open source developers through its own product, the reality of the situation is that GitHub is the de facto platform for software workers worldwide – it will be difficult for this campaign to gain significant momentum. There are alternatives, of course, like GitLab’s self-hosted community edition, but GitHub has done a pretty good job of making itself a “sticky” proposition for millions of developers around the world.
It’s also worth noting that Microsoft’s longtime foe Amazon recently debuted its own incarnation of Copilot called CodeWhisperer, which rolled out in preview last week. And it’s clear from launch that Amazon is trying to address some of the copyright issues that have arisen from Copilot – for example, if CodeWhisperer generates a code suggestion that is similar to an existing snippet in its training data, it will flag the license associated with that original function. It is then up to the developer whether they use that code or not.
So while Software Freedom Conservancy’s campaign may or may not prove fruitful in getting people to ditch GitHub, combined with competition from Amazon’s product, it could put enough pressure on Microsoft to change the way Copilot works in the world. change in the future — so that it at least has more transparency in the source of the code suggestions.
londonbusinessblog.com reached out to GitHub for comment yesterday, but has not heard back at the time of publication.