Universal Music Group (UMG) has this year offered commercial friendship to a number of companies that are innovatively combining generative AI and music… with copyright-respecting intentions.

For example: In May, UMG struck a partnership with ‘functional AI music’ specialist Endel; in August, Universal revealed it was to co-develop AI tools with YouTube that offered “safe, responsible and profitable” opportunities to music rightsholders; and earlier today (October 18), UMG announced “an industry-first strategic relationship concentrated on artificial intelligence” with BandLab Technologies, parent to music creation platform BandLab.

Not every artificial intelligence innovator, however, has won UMG’s good graces.

Indeed, MBW has just gotten word that Universal Music Group is suing one powerful AI platform – which last month secured a multi-billion dollar investment from Amazon – for copyright infringement.

Universal’s new lawsuit against San Francisco-based Anthropic could have ramifications for music rightsholders’ relationships with AI tech firms for years, and perhaps decades, to come.

The suit, filed by UMG’s publishing company Universal Music Publishing Group, along with co-plaintiffs Concord Music Group and ABKCO, seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in damages from Anthropic – which describes itself as an “AI safety and research company” – for the alleged “systematic and widespread infringement of their copyrighted song lyrics”.

Anthropic’s flagship product is called Claude, which is part-ChatGPT rival and part-content creation engine.

Anthropic proudly describes Claude as “excel[ling] at a wide range of tasks from sophisticated dialogue and creative content generation to detailed instruction”.

That’s all very well – but the publishers’ lawsuit claims, in no uncertain terms, that Claude’s “creative content generation” tramples all over long-held copyright law in the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in a Nashville court on Wednesday (October 18), claims that, “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 lawsuit, obtained by MBW, and which you can read in full here, continues: “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.”

“Just as Anthropic does not want its code taken without its authorization, neither do music publishers or any other copyright owners want their works to be exploited without permission.”

Lawsuit filed against Anthropic

According to the suit, Anthropic infringes the music companies’ copyrights by “scraping and ingesting massive amounts of text from the internet and potentially other sources, and then using that vast corpus to train its AI models and generate output based on this copied text”.

The suit adds: “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.

“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.

“Just as Anthropic does not want its code taken without its authorization, neither do music publishers or any other copyright owners want their works to be exploited without permission.

“Just like countless other technologies, AI companies must abide by the law.”

Matthew J. Oppenheim (Attorney for ABKCO, Concord and UMPG)

“The unauthorized use of copyrighted material is illegal and, in the case of copyrighted music lyrics, harms songwriters and music publishers,” reads a statement issued by Matthew J. Oppenheim of Oppenheim + Zebrak, LLP, Attorney for ABKCO, Concord and UMPG.

“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.”

Universal, Concord and ABKCO’s lawsuit claims that, as a result of Anthropic’s alleged song lyric scraping, the company’s Claude chatbot is able to  “generate identical or nearly identical copies of those lyrics, in clear violation of Publishers’ copyrights”.

The lawsuit notes that several music lyrics aggregators already exist, the difference being that those sites have obtained the proper licenses from the music publishers to use their copyrighted works on their services.

“Indeed, there is an existing market through which Publishers license their copyrighted lyrics, ensuring that the creators of musical compositions are compensated and credited for such uses,” the lawsuit explains.

It adds: “By refusing to license 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 endeavors, it is competing unfairly against those website developers that respect the copyright law and pay for licenses, and it is undermining existing and future licensing markets in untold ways.”

An additional issue referenced in the complaint is that Anthropic’s AI models generate output containing the publishing companies’ lyrics “even when the models are not specifically asked to do so”.

The lawsuit claims that the Claude chatbot responds to various prompts that don’t specifically ask for the copyrighted lyrics “by generating output that nevertheless copies Publishers’ lyrics”.

Examples of such requests include asking the chatbot 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”.

The lawsuit claims that “Anthropic profits richly from its infringement of Publishers’ repertoires and other copyright owners’ works” but that it has “never even attempted to license the use of Publishers’ lyrics”.

The lawsuit continues: “Though the company only recently launched Anthropic is already reportedly valued at $5 billion or more, has received billions of dollars in funding, and boasts of numerous high-profile commercial customers and partnerships.

“None of that would be possible without the vast troves of copyrighted material that Anthropic scrapes from the internet and exploits as the input and output for its AI models.”

Amongst their various demands, the music companies are seeking a jury trial, and statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed. In the accompanying ‘Exhibit A’ document filed with the lawsuit, 500 works are listed, which means that they are seeking at least $75 million for alleged copyright infringement.

However, the suit also seeks up to $25,000 in statutory damages per violation “or in the alternative, at Publishers’ election, Publishers’ actual damages and Anthropic’s profits, in an amount to be proven at trial” due to Anthropic’s alleged “removal and/or alteration of Publishers’ copyright management information in violation of the Copyright Act”.Music Business Worldwide


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