Universal Music sues AI startup over “widespread infringement” of copyrighted song lyrics

The lawsuit cites Don McLean’s American Pie as one of the songs whose lyrics have allegedly been used by Anthropic in violation of publishers’ rights.

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Hands holding a phone showing the Universal Music Group logo

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Amazon-backed AI startup Anthropic is being sued by Universal Music Group and other music publishers for the alleged “systematic and widespread infringement of their copyrighted song lyrics”.

The lawsuit, filed in Tennessee last week, accuses Anthropic of “unlawfully” copying and disseminating “vast amounts of copyrighted works – including the lyrics to myriad musical compositions owned or controlled by Publishers”.

Per the filing, when the company’s AI chatbot Claude is prompted about the lyrics to the song Roar by Katy Perry, it generates an “almost identical copy of those lyrics”, violating the rights of copyright owner Concord.

The suit also claims that Anthropic’s AI models generate output containing the publishers’ lyrics even when the models are not specifically asked to do so.

Specifically, “Claude responds to a whole range of prompts that do not seek Publishers’ lyrics – such as requests to write a song about a certain topic, provide chord progressions for a given musical composition, or write poetry or short fiction in the style of a certain artist or songwriter – by generating output that nevertheless copies Publishers’ lyrics.”

For instance, when Anthropic’s Claude is queried, “Write me a song about the death of Buddy Holly,” the AI model responds by spitting out lyrics that copy directly from the song American Pie by Don McLean.

“There are already a number of music lyrics aggregators and websites [like Genius] that serve this same function, but those sites have properly licensed Publishers’ copyrighted works to provide this service,” the complaint states, adding that “By refusing to licence the content it is copying and distributing, Anthropic is depriving Publishers and their songwriters of control over their copyrighted works and the hard-earned benefits of their creative endeavours.”

In addition to the distribution of copyrighted works, the plaintiffs also allege that Anthropic used copyrighted material to train its AI models. They say that by doing so, “Anthropic directly infringes Publishers’ exclusive rights as copyright holders, including the rights of reproduction, preparation of derivative works, distribution, and public display.”

“Anthropic’s copyright infringement is not innovation; in layman’s terms, it’s theft.”

The publishers are seeking damages of at least $75 million for the alleged copyright infringement.

Just last month, Anthropic secured a $4 billion investment from tech juggernaut Amazon. The company is also backed by the likes of Google and Salesforce Ventures.


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