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Microsoft Says It Will Take the Heat if Copilot AI Commercial Users Get Sued

Originally published in The Verge, Sept 7, 2023. 

Microsoft is telling customers it will assume legal responsibility if they get sued for copyright infringement while using the company’s AI Copilot services.

In a blog post about an initiative called the Copilot Copyright Commitment, Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith said the company will take the heat for any potential legal risks as more copyright holders question how AI companies handle protected works. Microsoft said the policy is an extension of its overall AI customer commitments, announced earlier this year.

Microsoft said it chose this path for three reasons: it wants to stand behind customers when using its services; it understands the concern of copyright holders; and it has built guardrails against the possibility of results infringing on copyrighted material.

“If a third party sues a commercial customer for copyright infringement for using Microsoft’s Copilots or the output they generate, we will defend the customer and pay the amount of any adverse judgments or settlements that result from the lawsuit, as long as the customer used the guardrails and content filters,” Smith wrote.

Smith indicated one reason for the partnership was to handle uncertainty in copyright law without driving people away from generative AI services. “It is critical for authors to retain control of their rights under copyright law and earn a healthy return on their creations,” Smith wrote, but “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.” Some companies have floated the idea of licensing and opt-in permissions as a way for AI projects to access data and not infringe on intellectual property rights.

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