back to article Ex-Amazon exec claims she was asked to ignore copyright law in race to AI

A lawsuit is alleging Amazon was so desperate to keep up with the competition in generative AI it was willing to breach its own copyright rules. The allegation emerges from a complaint [PDF] accusing the tech and retail mega-corp of demoting, and then dismissing, a former high-flying AI scientist after it discovered she was …

  1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    A tech company?

    Breaking laws?

    Colour me blind, never saw that one coming

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: A tech company?

      But they have rules about that, and actually employ people to alert management in the event of a breach of, for example, copyright:

      "Part of her role was flagging violations of Amazon's internal copyright policies and escalating these concerns to the in-house legal team."

      So actually she seems to have been demoted and persecuted for doing her job:

      "The filing alleges she met with a representative from the legal department to explain her concerns and the tension they posed with the "direction she had received from upper management, which advised her to violate the direction from legal.

      According to the complaint, Styskin rejected Ghaderi's concerns, allegedly telling her to ignore copyright policies to improve the results. Referring to rival AI companies, the filing alleges he said: "Everyone else is doing it.""

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

        Re: A tech company?

        I'm sorry, but color me skeptical!

        As someone who has to perform e-Discovery on numerous cases like this I can tell you that this type of case is a gravy train for disgruntled employee and their lawyers. Of course, her lawyer is asking for a jury trial. That's how they win! I cost far more to fight these than to settle.

        I am reminded of the young African American woman working for us on one of our construction sites. Always joking around with the guys in very suggestive ways. She was a lousy employee and was reprimanded the required 3 time. Then let go. She sues us to racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Her lawyer's words verbatim: "I'll make this cost far more if you fight it than if you settle." The truth doesn't matter!

        Now, do you want to hear about juries? An old lady crosses the center line on the road and hits one of our trucks head on. 6 men in the truck are put in hospital. Men with families to feed. The old lady dies. Her family sues us. All evidence shows it was her fault, even the police report states it was her fault. This was one case we believed was worth fighting. We lost! All the jury could see was a dead old lady, her grieving family and the evil corporation!

        So yeah, I am always very skeptical about cases like these.

        1. Dave@Home

          Re: A tech company?

          So rather than discuss the case, you go to hand waving about completely unrelated cases, while shouting "tHeY aRe AlL tHe SaMe"?

          how very odd

        2. Gordon 10
          FAIL

          Re: A tech company?

          I've worked eDiscovery. It's like everything else some really shafted people, some chancers and a whole lot of meh in the middle where relationships have broken down.

          You are a bullshitter and ICMFP.

          If the lady was really challenged with a task I don't believe an Emeritus Engineer (or whatever AMZ call their senior ones) could have solved that in 8 days, then that looks like constructive dismissal. I couldnt solve that in our company in 8 days let alone something as complex and hyper optimised as Amazon.

        3. Mattice12

          Finally someone speaking out!

          As a former Amazon spouse myself (my ex worked there), I can assure you this case is long overdue. There is a reason Amazon has the worst reputation among the FAANG companies and I've seen worse first hand directly. It's harshest in the engineering organizations where it's cutthroat and run by ego-centric males that believe they are geniuses because Bezos has made them millionaires. They use Amazon's stock price to validate their ego. And, it's gotten a lot worse the last 18 months since the job markets tightened and the power has shifted back to the corporate.

          In short, I have no doubt that this is a legitimate case. I've seen the same first hand. The difference here is the victim is taking the harder more personally difficult path to call out the BS. It's always interesting to me how the victim can be positioned as the "bad guy" despite the risk to their career and reputation for coming out against injustice. In this case, for someone who is highly marketable, an AI leader with a top tier PhD, she should be admired for speaking truth and exposing the dark side of Amazon's engineering behemoth.

  2. Zibob Bronze badge

    Always very interesting

    When international employees get in trouble all based on the background they were raised in and then taken to court in yet another country.

    Absolutely not saying any of this is right, its a huge failure of basic human decency.

    Its just tragically funny that the powerful of the world, need to be brought to court just for basic manners. Its a wonder the world is a mess when we put sociopaths as heads of corporate and state.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Always very interesting

      I work in France for the local branch of a US company. As an employee representative, I spend a lot of time explaining to management that however they wish it, however easier it'd make their jobs to only deal with US laws, they really have to apply local laws.

      I meet constant denial.

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

        Re: Always very interesting

        Which is very stupid of them. If they operate in multiple states in the US they all have different laws that apply to employees, and many other things.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Always very interesting

          It goes both ways. I work for a company where a major part of HR is managed from our German facility. They don't even "get" that labor laws in the US vary not just by State, but often by County & City. (Nor that in New England, towns hold a lot of local power whereas in most of the US, the Counties hold that.) And that's before you get to how regional "cultural practices" & holidays, not to mention accents, are around the US. If I had a nickel for every meeting I've been in where the German HR folks are baffled when we tell them some policy won't work because what they want isn't simultaneously OK with laws in Massachusetts, New York, Arizona, North Carolina, Washington State, multiple parts of California, and multiple parts of Florida, I'd be rich.

  3. lglethal Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I hope she gets to take them to the cleaners. That sort of behaviour really is unconscionable...

    1. IceC0ld

      I hope so too

      however, history shows that for the mega companies, a 'major' fine will be the equivalent of us searching down the back of the sofa :o(

      she MAY get a few million

      but to Amazon, how many MINUTES of profit is that ?

  4. DJO Silver badge

    Confusing

    We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in our workplace. We investigate any reports of such conduct and take appropriate action against anyone found to have violated our policies.

    So, correct me if I'm wrong, To show how much they are against retaliation they will retaliate against anybody who retaliated.

    1. egrep

      Re: Confusing

      Retaliation at work means something specific: 'A manager may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise "retaliate" against an individual for filing a complaint of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination.'

      https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation-making-it-personal

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Confusing

        ---- Whoosh ----

        1. egrep

          Re: Confusing

          If you mean the employee was the first to retaliate against the company by flagging copyright violations and escalating to legal, this was part of her job, not a vendetta.

    2. kgilvin1

      Re: Confusing

      That behavior is common practice at the great and almighty Amazon.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Note to HR. Never mess with somebody who knows where the bodies are buried.

  6. Sparkus

    "Everyone else is doing it."

    This is the money quote, for Dr. Ghaderi anyway.

    I have the feeling that Amazon will do, say, or pay anything to avoid having Andrey Styskin publicly and legally explain that comment. The document discovery alone is going to be spectacular.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

      She took a job leading a new team in September and was pressured to delay her maternity leave until November 15th. "She returned to work after giving birth in January 2023" and was challenged in March "meeting its goals on Alexa search quality".

      The timeline is insane. So was she promoted to do a job that she could not do because she was about to go on maturity leave. If the job deadline was that critical that the target was for March review why was she given the job and also why did she take the job.

      A lot of the dates also do not add up to me. She left amazon in 2021 and then returned I am assuming in 2022. When exactly did she return. Given the amount of moving around she did in the short time after the return is it that she was just not settled into a team and structure and was moved again and interpret it as a demotion. She interpreted the last move over her last boss as a promotion because se was reporting to someone higher than him.

      The allegations are at best "wishy washy" to me. I am all for worker rights but in this case the timelines just don't add up. Usually when you got a law suit of this type it is an employee who is established in the company this does not seem to be the case this time.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. boatsman

        Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

        try reading it again.

        the only that doesnt add up is your logic.

      3. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

        This is actually seems to be SOP here in CA. You'd think this "getting new job that requires 100% attention and then going off on maternity leave" is just an outlier, one of those 'stuff happens' things, but its happened to many times to my direct knowledge to be mere coincidence. Its a problem with California employment law, you most certainly can't exclude someone from a job because of their gender, marital status or even pregnancy. But to be fair to everyone, this should cut both ways, especially in a professional type job where you're expected to perform 100% -- you have a responsibility to both your colleagues and your employer so if you know you're not going to be available to do the job then you should pass on it.

        Obviously you can't say anything because you'll get tarred and feathered (.....as I'm probably going to be now).

        1. Gordon 10

          Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

          If you really believe that tripe you are part of the problem. Stats show that women are regularly treated as less than men and that pregnancy only exacerbates the gender gap.

          1. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

            >If you really believe that tripe you are part of the problem

            -- You don't take over as principal of a high school and immediately go out on maternity leave for a semester.

            -- You don't become the manager of a test group and then immediately disappear for three months.

            Just a couple of the more egregious cases that I've witnessed. Believe it or not having children is physically and mentally exhausting so it needs to be treated like any other project -- its going to need time and money and that has to be budgeted for. (There's always the "unplanned pregnancy" but really should be an outlier among the population we're talking about here.) This is an immutable fact of life, and ignoring it is going to lead to trouble. This is what your parents are for -- they've been there, done that, and they should have schooled you about how things work and be available to help out with the transition (but please don't assume that they're available 24/7 for childcare duties)(kids are a lot of work)

            "With the arrogance of youth these newbes think that women's liberation started with their generation."

            "With freedom comes responsibility..."

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

              The "budgeted for" bit is really a US thing. In other countries, it's vastly less expensive. So that fact isn't really immutable.

              Also, a company that can't deal with the sudden disappearance of a manager isn't that well managed. There are plenty of reasons why somebody has to leave work for a while. Maternity and paternity are a couple of possibilities among many others (and you don't appear to know about the latter, curiously).

        2. Wzrd1 Silver badge

          Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

          "This is actually seems to be SOP here in CA."

          Later, this individual will react with alarm at the US birthrate declining for multiple years by 13%.

          Just more from the barefoot and pregnant lobby.

      4. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

        What do you want to bet that the data store that they wanted purged also contains her discovery data?

    2. JParker

      Re: "Everyone else is doing it."

      One glaring omission from the article is what, if any, response their legal department had to the objection. I suspect that they did not object to that particular usage of copyrighted material; otherwise, I would expect her boss to be told to stop.

  7. UnknownUnknown

    Alexa Dumb as Shit

    Aside from the issues at discussion here …. I might add that

    - Alexa is dumb as shit as can’t understand spoken words properly

    - Alexa is dumb as shit as knowns nothing

    - Alexia is just ignorant dumb as shit - what’s playing Alexa’ (via something synced from Amazon Music). “XYZ is playing”. “Alexa play XYZ”. “Sorry I don’t know that one”

    - Alexa is dumb as shit and doesn’t know known things “Alexa play XYZ”, “Sort I don’t know that one”, Go to Amazon music and play it at my Echo speakers”, Playing XYZ’.

    Basic and perpetually annoying dumbness - sort that out first not fucking AI. Thing you already know, have the data for, are not under copyright.

    1. I like fruits

      Re: Alexa Dumb as Shit

      Why do you force yourself use it then? Genuinely curious.

  8. EricB123 Silver badge

    You Get What You Deserve (eventually)

    No wonder the population pyramids of industrialized countries keeps getting skewed to the elderly. It is near impossible to have a proper family anymore.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: You Get What You Deserve (eventually)

      This is not an axe I personally grind, but it's true that pretty much all of the pieces I've seen on the "fertility crisis" claim adverse workplace policies and consequences are a major contributor.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not her area of expertise?

    Unless she also has a Law degree that isn't really her call. If she thinks that she is being asked to do something unethical, she can call the police/quit/raise a complaint.

    If the Amazon legal team review and use the Ok stamp then that's the answer. We still have not come up with the answer of whether training neural networks is transformative, commentary, parody, or if the user of the NN is responsible for attempting to extract Copyright information.

    She should just stick to the basic lawsuit...

    1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

      Re: Not her area of expertise?

      Exactly, this has nothing to do with the lawsuit and is only being brought up to paint Amazon as the "evil corporation."

      .

      1. mattaw2001

        Re: Not her area of expertise?

        I strongly disagree. I think I agree with the reporter that it's in there to scare Amazon to settle to avoid discovery re copyright material in their nn training.

  10. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    Typical aresehole leadership, she knew it was wrong and only complains when the money stops.

    This is whats wrong with America.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      As the whetstone turns...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in our workplace. We investigate any reports of such conduct and take appropriate action against anyone found to have violated our policies. /Such as, promoting them if they managed to do it without leaving a trail of actionable evidence/"

    There, FTFY.

    1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      How is paying leadership 100x more than the workers not discrimination ?

  12. 0laf Silver badge

    Any fallout from a business (particularly big business) not acting lawfully is just another business risk.

    It's really not a big deal to these big companies, they just run the numbers. How likely is it we'd get caught, how big will the fine be and how likely is it we'd have to pay?

    And the reality right now is that although they are likely to get caught the chance of them paying a fine significant enough to cause an effect on the business is very small.

    And the change of that fine impacting on the personal situation (financial or otherwise) of any executive officer is negligable.

    Therefore to act unlawfully is possibly desirable in business risk terms.

  13. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    I half feel sorry for those who are late to the party. The early runners scraped the net, and will be able to generate revenue to pay the legal bills to cover their indiscretions. Those who come after will be hamstrung by not being able to do that.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amazon HR

    Amazon HR is based on "What have you done for me lately". If it doesn't benefit Amazon then you can bet you will get dinged. Even if you are benefitting your customers in a supposedly customer obsessed culture.

    Her review results don't surprise me at all. They tout making data driven decisions but when it comes to HR they control all the data.

  15. russmichaels

    > documents allege Krishnakumar made "numerous discriminatory and harassing comments" such as "Take it easy, I have young daughters, so I know it's hard to be a woman with a newborn," or "You should spend time with your daughter," or "You should just enjoy being a new mother."

    seriously?

    there is nothing discriminatory and harassing about that, it's literally the complete opposite of that.....

  16. martinusher Silver badge

    Copyright and Patents only matter when you have a product

    During the R&D phase of a project you may well want to use copyrighted or patented techniques to get a feel for how the pieces fit together. This is quite normal and should the material be essential to the final product you may have to rely on marketing or legal to secure rights to it. You may also find alternative methods, techniques, workarounds even, its all part of the job. Obviously crossing the line would be taking something like code and after disguising it attempting to use it directly; that's not only unethical and unlawful and is likely to get you into expensive legal trouble. But you need to know the boundaries.

    As far as parenting goes, its easy for younger people to fail to recognize that practically all their colleagues are, or have been, parents. We know the problems and pressures and we'll usually cover for people who have younger children even if there's no official HR policy for that. Just don't abuse it!

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Copyright and Patents only matter when you have a product

      No, copyrights and patents only matter for some companies *only* when they own those copyrights and patents, to hell with everyone else's rights to their property.

      1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: Copyright and Patents only matter when you have a product

        Just like black loves matter only applies to americans and not yellow kids working in Nike sweat shops or blacks in africa...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will the US apply the same to Amazon as happened to BT Tiantang for copyright infringements ? Likely not. Settle is just a variant of blackmail, so glad this case comes to the surface. Going to HR is mostly useless, too afraid to report to authorities, taking side at default for the interestest side of the company instead of employees, nothing more than like insurance companies trying to find ways to dismiss cases and responsibility.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like