Three major music publishers, Universal, Concord and ABKCO, filed a complaint against the new AI company Anthropic for copyright violations, according to legal documents obtained Wednesday by Variety. The legal issues stem from Anthropic’s series of AI models referred to as Claude, and is the latest move in the music industry’s efforts to stave off what it perceives as a massive copyright threat from AI developers.
“Publishers bring this action to address the systematic and widespread infringement of their copyrighted song lyrics by the artificial intelligence (“AI”) company Anthropic,” the complaint reads. “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. 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. Anthropic must abide by well-established copyright laws, just as countless other technology companies regularly do.
The complaint continues, “Although the AI technology involved in this case may be complex and cutting edge, the legal issues presented here are straightforward and long-standing. A defendant cannot reproduce, distribute, and display someone else’s copyrighted works to build its own business unless it secures permission from the rightsholder. This foundational rule of copyright law dates all the way back to the Statute of Anne in 1710, and it has been applied time and time again to numerous infringing technological developments in the centuries since.
“That principle does not fall away simply because a company adorns its infringement with the words ‘AI.’”
Reps for Anthropic did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
The publishers are seeking a jury trial and statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed — with some 500 works listed in an accompanying document, meaning at least $75 million. The suit also seeks up to $25,000 in statutory damages per violation, or an amount to be determined in a trial.
Valued at upwards of $5 billion, Anthropic was founded in 2021 by former OpenAI executives and has received funding from companies including Amazon, Google, and Zoom. Last month, Amazon announced that it has made a minority investment of up to $4 billion in the company and struck an agreement to become its primary cloud provider. It was announced as “a strategic collaboration that will bring together their respective industry-leading technology and expertise in safer generative artificial intelligence to accelerate the development of Anthropic’s future foundation models and make them widely accessible to [Amazon Web Services] customers.”
Matthew J. Oppenheim of Oppenheim + Zebrak, an attorney for ABKCO, Concord and UMPG, said in a statement: “The unauthorized use of copyrighted material is illegal and, in the case of copyrighted music lyrics, harms songwriters and music publishers. 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. Just like countless other technologies, AI companies must abide by the law.”
At the center of the complaint is a central issue of the music industry’s disputes with AI companies: Their tactic of “training” AI models by scraping and ingesting vast amounts of copyrighted material obtained over the internet and from other sources, and then using that material as the basis for new songs or lyrics or other output.
“Included in the text that Anthropic copies to fuel its AI models are the lyrics to innumerable musical compositions for which Publishers own or control the copyrights, among countless other copyrighted works harvested from the internet,” the complaint continues. “This copyrighted material is not free for the taking simply because it can be found on the internet. Anthropic has neither sought nor secured Publishers’ permission to use their valuable copyrighted works in this way.”
The complaint claims that “When a user prompts Anthropic’s Claude AI chatbot to provide the lyrics to songs such as ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ ‘God Only Knows,’ ‘What a Wonderful World,’ ‘Gimme Shelter,’ ‘Uptown Funk’… or any other number of Publishers’ musical compositions, the chatbot will provide responses that contain all or significant portions of those lyrics,” adding, “What’s more, Anthropic’s AI models generate output containing Publishers’ lyrics even when the models are not specifically asked to do so.”
The move is the latest in a series of seemingly simultaneous carrot-and-stick actions by Universal regarding AI, in which it responds aggressively to what it perceives as violations — such as the Ghostwriter song “Heart on My Sleeve,” which used AI-generated vocals that sound uncannily like the Weeknd and Drake, and was removed by streaming services after legal action by UMG, although a new version without those vocals was recently posted — and rewarding those that it sees as playing by the rules, such as the music company Endel, with which UMG has partnered and licensed its artists to create music for purposes such as sleeping and exercise.