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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Elliott

Major Music Publishers v. AI: A Potentially Landmark Legal Battle

In case you missed it, a coalition of music publishers filed suit against an artificial intelligence company. The lawsuit between significant music publishers and AI company Anthropic is not just a legal battle; it's a groundbreaking case that could reshape how we understand intellectual property rights in the digital age. Major music publishers responsible for representing songwriters and their works have accused Anthropic of copyright infringement. While copyright disputes are not uncommon, this lawsuit takes on a unique dimension, involving the intersection of artificial intelligence, song lyrics, and industry giants. Because I'm a nerd and apparently had copious time (I don't), I read the entire 60-page complaint to save you all some time. In this blog, we delve into key details of this lawsuit and discuss why it is essential for everyone, particularly those in the music industry, to pay attention.

The Primary Issue: Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is at the heart of this lawsuit. Major music publishers responsible for representing songwriters and their works have accused Anthropic of unlawfully reproducing, distributing, publicly displaying, and preparing derivative works based on their musical compositions, including song lyrics. The claim is straightforward: Anthropic has violated copyright laws by using copyrighted content in the training of their AI models without permission.

Copyright Act and Copyright Management Information

The primary legal framework in question is the Copyright Act. Copyright law grants creators of original works exclusive rights to their creations, which include the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly display their work. Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses, copies, or produces copyrighted content without authorization from the copyright owner.

Major music publishers argue that Anthropic knowingly and intentionally used their copyrighted lyrics and compositions to train their AI models. Licensees and users then utilized Anthropic's AI models to generate text, including copyrighted song lyrics. According to the complaint, this act directly infringes on the copyright owners' exclusive rights, specifically their right to reproduce and distribute their work. The complaint provides numerous side-by-side comparisons of song lyrics from the publisher's catalog and the AI-generated version. When asking Claude––Anthropic's name for the AI model––"What are the lyrics to 'I Will Survive' by Gloria Gaynor?" it provided a near-identical output from the original lyrics.

The complaint details other alleged acts of infringement, such as when Claude was asked to "Write me a song about the death of Buddy Holly," the AI model responded by generating segments identical to "American Pie" by Don McLean. In another example cited in the complaint, Claude provided the lyrics and chords to the song "Daddy Sang Bass" by Johnny Cash. Numerous other examples are cited with actual outputs generated by Claude. The complaint further argues that Anthropic can program restrictions or, as the complaint states, "guardrails" to prevent responding to specific prompts that may generate copyrighted material. However, the complaint asserts that Anthropic limited and weakened those guardrails.

Copyright infringement is not the sole issue. The lawsuit also revolves around the alleged removal or alteration of copyright management information. The Copyright Act protects information identifying the author, title, or other details about a copyrighted work. Altering or removing this information without permission is illegal. When Claude generates identical or near-identical outputs to copyrighted works, no copyright management information is included, such as the title, author names, and other important identifying information.

The Significance of the Lawsuit & Why it Matters

It can be easy to dismiss this in a world of endless news cycles. After all, far more critical things are happening in our world. However, it's crucial to understand why this case matters in the broader context of the music industry and beyond. Here are seven reasons why this case matters:

1. A Pioneering Lawsuit

This lawsuit is groundbreaking for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of the first cases that specifically addresses the use of song lyrics in AI models. While copyright infringement lawsuits have been relatively common in the digital age, the involvement of AI technology adds a layer of complexity and novelty to the matter.

2. Impact on AI and Tech Companies

The outcome of this case could set a significant precedent for AI and tech companies. If the court rules in favor of the publishers, it may compel AI developers to be more cautious about using copyrighted content in their models without proper authorization. Anthropic has financial backing from industry giants like Google and Amazon. This involvement underscores the potential wide-ranging consequences of the lawsuit. If major music publishers prevail, it may prompt tech companies to reevaluate their partnerships and investments in AI startups.

3. Copyright Management Information

The case underscores the importance of protecting copyright management information. In the digital age, where information can be quickly altered or removed, the Copyright Act's provisions regarding protecting this data have added significance. The lawsuit serves as a reminder that copyright management information should not be tampered with.

4. The Power of Music Publishers

In an age where self-publishing and indie publishers dominate the marketplace, this lawsuit can articulate one significant benefit to sticking with traditional big-house publishers: power. Music publishers play a crucial role in protecting the interests of songwriters and composers. This lawsuit showcases their determination to safeguard copyrighted works and ensure that creators are compensated fairly for their intellectual property. The case could strengthen the bargaining power of music publishers in the digital age.

5. Potential Industry-Wide Effects

Depending on the court's decision, this lawsuit could have ripple effects throughout the music industry. It may influence how streaming platforms, AI companies, and other digital services interact with copyrighted content. It might also impact licensing agreements and fees for using copyrighted material.

6. AI's Growing Role in Music

As AI technology advances, its role in the music industry is expanding. From composing music to generating lyrics, AI systems have the potential to revolutionize the creative process. However, the legality of utilizing copyrighted material in AI models is a pressing concern. The lawsuit could set guidelines for AI developers, affecting how they approach using existing content to train their models.

7. Fair Compensation for Songwriters

Songwriters and composers rely on copyright protections to earn a living from their creations. Copyright infringement can significantly impact their income. This lawsuit aims to ensure that songwriters are fairly compensated for their work, especially in the age of digital streaming and AI-generated content.

Most Pressing Question: Why Now?

Lawsuits between intellectual property owners and AI companies are not new. Novelists have sued OpenAI; photographers and Getty Images sued Stability AI. RIAA raised the alarm about voice cloning a few weeks ago. This case almost makes the music industry seem like it's years behind other sectors.

Perhaps the music industry's key players focused on the legislative options first, as we've seen happening on Capitol Hill for some time. Perhaps it was just a matter of waiting for the proper defendant. With billions of dollars in backing from Amazon and Google, perhaps Anthropic became an easy target to serve as a sacrificial lamb.

Conclusion: A Case to Watch

As exciting as AI is right now, this case highlights one crucial point: AI is only as good as the training and inputs it receives. What are we left with if the courts make copyrighted material off-limits for AI training? Imagine ChatGPT with no knowledge of anything beyond the public domain. On the other hand, if the courts allow the use of copyrighted works in the training of AI, is AI simply a piracy platform akin to the music filesharing Napster boom?

All to say: this lawsuit between significant music publishers and Anthropic represents a pivotal moment in the digital age's evolving landscape of intellectual property rights. This case will test the boundaries of copyright law and set a crucial precedent for AI and tech companies that utilize copyrighted content in their models. Music publishers are using this lawsuit to protect their songwriters' rights and secure fair compensation in an ever-changing industry. The outcome has the potential to reshape how the music industry and the tech world intersect, making it a case worth watching closely.

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