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« A Modest License Violation Proposal »

  • 16 October, 2022
  • 512 words
  • two minutes read time
Saturn devouring the GPL
Saturn devouring the GPL

Here’s a free product idea for the ambitious and morally flexible reader:

Microsoft charges you $10/month for access to a service that harvests intellectual property, launders it through an algorithm, and then presents it to you absent its license which is a violation of its copyleft terms. This has been a topic of discussion for several months now, and it appears that this is just one of those “the violator is a large enough and powerful enough entity that they’ll just do what they want” situations. I assume that any formal response would take the form of Microsoft tenting their fingers, furrowing their brow, and somberly murmuring that “we’ve heard you and are taking steps to investigate.” Sure, Jan.

Harvesting Moral Duplicity

Fortunately for you, dear reader, there’s money to be made here in just a simple steps, courtesy of a consultant named Screwtape:

Create “a sophisticated machine learning algorithm trained on publicly available code that offers suggestions in your editor”.

Screwtape, whispering to you behind the confessional: actually, let’s just store code we find, accept a user prompt, and return the first fuzzy match for their input from our data. We can fuck around and change cosmetic content if we need more reason to label it “an algorithm”. Scrape everything.

Leverage Microsoft’s position that we can present this code to you while ignoring the license because it passed through a very serious and complicated algorithm. Trust me when I say that we are gravely concerned about the moral implications here, but we’re working hard on the problem (nothing in that previous statement should be taken as forward-looking statements or legally binding agreements).

Screwtape, whispering softly to you while slipping cash out of the register: the heartfelt disclaimer will keep them off our backs for now.

Find a few prompts that yield the proprietary source from leaked copies of commercial products. Windows would be a good one, maybe even Office. Skip Teams.

Screwtape, shaking hands with Satya: we agree that this is ethically consistent.


We had to suffer a few months of Microsoft reselling our copyleft code for profit, but I’m optimistic that an ambitious entrepreneur can capitalize on this loophole newfound legal interpretation to liberate some proprietary code in similar fashion.

Of course, Microsoft could argue that we can’t reproduce code in violation of its license this way, but that would be implicitly admitting that Copilot is doing the same, and that certainly can’t be true. Can it?