Lawsuit lodged against Anthropic alleging copyright infringement of lyrics

October 19, 2023

Anthropic AI

Music publishers, including Universal Music, ABKCO, and Concord Publishing, have filed a lawsuit against Anthropic in a Tennessee federal court. 

The litigation accuses Anthropic of “misusing an ‘innumerable’ amount of copyrighted song lyrics to train its chatbot Claude.”

Examples provided range from the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to contemporary hits like Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Beyonce’s “Halo.”

According to the lawsuit, Anthropic allegedly infringed on the publishers’ copyrights by copying the song lyrics without obtaining the necessary permissions. 

The lawsuit alleges that the AI produces lyrics to direct requests for them, but also in response to prompts that don’t directly demand them.

For instance, when asked to write a song regarding the passing of rock icon Buddy Holly, Claude reportedly produces lyrics from Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

The AI should refuse the request. ChatGPT, for example, says, “Sorry, I can’t provide copyrighted song lyrics, including “Halo” by Beyoncé. However, I can offer a summary or answer questions about the song.”

While representatives from Anthropic have yet to issue a statement, the publishers’ attorney, Matt Oppenheim, emphasized that it is “well-established by copyright law that an entity cannot reproduce, distribute, and display someone else’s copyrighted works to build its own business unless it secures permission from rightsholders.”

Oppenheim might be correct, but copyright lawsuits lodged by artists and authors remain inconclusive, with OpenAI dismissing some as ‘baseless.’ 

Some legal analysts believe it’s firstly tricky to pinpoint where the copyright data came from – and therefore, where the infringement occurred – and secondly tough to argue AI developers are aiming to undermine the interests of copyright holders. 

Interestingly, this litigation against Anthropic is the first submitted over song lyrics. It’s also the first legal challenge faced by Anthropic.

The lyrics to famous songs appear everywhere across the internet, meaning it’s highly likely that they’ll get swept up in training data. 

The publishers seek monetary damages and a judicial order to prevent purported infringement.

This is another high-profile lawsuit – the latest in a long sequence of unresolved legal challenges against the AI protagonists of Meta, OpenAI, Microsoft, and now Anthropic. 

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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