This is the second post within a new series that I might start one day, about how companies abuse common misunderstanding of the GNU General Public License (GPL) to sell their stuff. Today, a slightly scary example. Scary, as it is so off the point.
The company Exafunction, Inc. claims that with their product “Codeium” they can provide intelligent programming assistance, based on a large language model (LLM). Just like Copilot of GitHub, Inc. and even better as they do not infringe any license and specifically not the GPL. Their writeup “GitHub Copilot Emits GPL. Codeium Does Not.” provides an adventurous interpretation about the GPL: You need consent to use it in a commercial context. Moreover training your model on purely permissive-licensed code will free you of any legal trouble.
Things are slightly different. Strange that nobody told them in their “… early conversations with the open source community”.
The GPL does not restrict commercial use. It does not even refer to it at all. You are fine in any fields of endeavour as long as you respect and fulfil its obligations.
The main problem with generative AI and the current ML-based programming assistants is that you cannot trace verbatim copies of code to its origin. Due to that you cannot fulfil the most essential obligation of any Free and Open Source Software license: attribution. Calling out the original authors.
It does not help if you train your model with just permissive-licensed code. You will infringe the underlying licensing terms if you do not provide any reference to the original authors and license(s). No matter if it is a permissive or copyleft license. Either way you will not have a valid legal base, speak license, to re-use the original work and it is as bad as any copyright violation with all of its consequences.
For more details or before starting the marketing campaign of your new programming assistant, it could be worth to take a closer look, for example at the ongoing GitHub Copilot litigation and its underlying motivation.