AI Maker Anthropic Hit With Lyrical Lawsuit

Amazon-backed Anthropic has joined the AI copyright litigation hit parade, catching a four-count infringement lawsuit from a trio of leading music publishers topped by Universal Music Group. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal district court in Nashville. Concord and ABKCO are also named plaintiffs.

Interestingly, the target of the complaint is Anthropic’s large language model (LLM), Claude, which is not a music generator tool and was not trained with musical compositions per se. Instead, the publishers call out Claude for copying and distributing the lyrics to songs owned or represented by the publishers in both its training input and generative output.

“In the process of building and operating AI models, Anthropic unlawfully copies and disseminates vast amounts of copyrighted works—including the lyrics to myriad musical compositions owned or controlled by Publishers,” the plaintiff charge in their 60-page complaint. Publishers embrace innovation and recognize the great promise of AI when used ethically and responsibly. But Anthropic violates these principles on a systematic and widespread basis.”

While the new lawsuit joins a long list of infringement actions brought against generative AI developers, it appears to be the first brought by music publishers and to target song lyrics directly. Most of the other suits, against OpenAI, Meta, Midjourney and the others, have been brought by authors, visual artists and photographers.

The music publishers’ suit is also distinguished by the complaint’s effort to grapple directly with how a large language model actually functions, how training datasets are actually compiled and prepared, how and where in the process the alleged infringement actually occurs, and how specifically the plaintiffs suffered harm as a result. Should the case reach trial and result in a ruling by one or more courts, it could produce a more robust precedent, one way or the other, than the earlier cases, where the complaints generally waved off the functional details of generative AI in favor of sweeping claims of wanton “copying” and “stealing.”

Notably though, while the Anthropic complaint incorporates complete lyrics of several well-known songs by famous artists, alongside the complete or near-complete copies of those purportedly generated by Claude in response to prompts, the suit does not seek to recover damages on the songwriters’ behalf, despite their being the victims of the alleged infringement. Nor does it indicate whether and how any money recovered would be shared with the artists.

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