Microsoft AI CEO says he considers all content on the internet to be freeware

The CEO of Microsoft AI, Mustafa Suleyman, has expressed some controversial opinions on the use of online content by AI companies. Suleyman made the statements during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Who is Mustafa Suleyman?

Mustafa Suleyman is the CEO of Microsoft AI and has been at the forefront of AI development for many years. In 2010, he cofounded the AI company DeepMind Technologies, which was acquired by Google in 2014. Subsequently, Suleyman worked for Google until he left in 2022 to found another company, Inflection AI. In March this year, he became Executive Vice President and CEO of its Microsoft’s newly created consumer AI unit, Microsoft AI.

The need for regulation

Suleyman was interviewed by CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The interview was about the future of artificial intelligence. Early in the interview, Suleyman spoke positively on the need for regulation of AI. However, when asked about the data used to train AI in the past, he seemed to dismiss concerns over the potential for infringements of copyright.

Stolen IP

Sorkin was fairly blunt with his question and asked Suleyman if AI companies had “effectively stolen the World’s IP (intellectual property).” Suleyman initially acknowledged that it was “a very fair argument.” However, he then went on to say, “With respect to content that is already on the open web, the social contract of that content since the 90s has been that it is fair use. Anyone can copy it, recreate with it, reproduce with it. That has been freeware if you like.”

Gray area

Suleyman went on to say, “There’s a separate category where a website, or a publisher, or a news organization had explicitly said do not scrape or crawl me for any other reason than indexing me so that other people can find that content. That’s a gray area and I think that’s going to work its way through the courts.”

Copyright law varies to some extent from country to country. However, the basic principle that underpins copyright is that once you create an original work you are the author and the copyright owner. This applies to taking a photograph, writing a poem or blog or recording a new song. The period of copyright also lasts from the moment that you create the work, up to seventy years after your death. In addition, copyright exists automatically in an original work. You don’t have to register it, but for U.S. works, registration is necessary to enforce the exclusive rights of copyright through litigation.

What is fair use?

Suleyman used the term “fair use.” Fair use is defined in Section 107 of the Copyright Act in the US. The U.S. Copyright Office says that examples of fair use include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. However, you need to consider four factors which are:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

What we think

One of the biggest concerns around AI is the sources of content used to train the various algorithms. To reassure the creative community, Adobe has been paying creators for videos to help develop its generative AI. Vimeo has also confirmed that it won’t allow AI companies to use your content without your explicit consent. So it’s a little surprising that Mustafa Suleyman appears to have so openly stated that Microsoft AI considers all content on the internet to be up for grabs. It’s a view that is likely to increase the worries around the continued development of AI. As such, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft AI takes steps to clarify the company’s position in light of Suleyman’s comments.

Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.

Related Content