Legality of AI-Generated Music: Analyzing Concord Music Group Inc. v. Anthropic PBC



There has been a recent increase in incidents of online creators uploading songs generated by AI software, simulating or ‘imitating’ the style of popular artists. This could be on existing songs, such as the AI cover of the popular Canadian rapper Drake’s ‘Passionfruit’ in the voice of rapper Kanye West, released on Youtube. This could even be completely new music generated by AI, such as a song called ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ in the style of Drake and the singer ‘The Weeknd’, which was later removed from platforms like Spotify and Tidal due to claims of ‘unoriginality’.


In perhaps the first full-fledged lawsuit against AI music creators, numerous renowned US music companies including Concord Music, Universal Music and Capitol CMG, banded together to file a complaint and prayer for trial on October 18, 2023, before the Tennessee District Court against AI company ‘Anthropic’.


This 60-page document contained allegations of infringement of at least 500 of their registered copyrighted songs under 17 USC §501 [or Section 51 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957] and violation of their exclusive economic rights of ‘reproduction, preparation of derivative works, distribution, and public display’ under 17 USC §§106(1)-(3), (5) and 501 (or Section 14(a) and (e) of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957) through the operation of their ‘Claude’ model.


These record labels claim that Anthropic is no better than other AI developers that have recently been sued, because there is no explanation offered as to how they actually uphold ‘helpful, honest and harmless’ methods of operation, as laid down in their constitution. Further, they contend that, in spite of Anthropic’s pledge to be a ‘safety and research company’, they train ‘Claude’, a large language model (LLM), on a vast corpus of their song collection to essentially generate identical lyrics in their text-based responses.


However, the most worrying observation by the music publishers is related to the responses given by the Chabot even when the user neither prompts it to directly provide the lyrics to these existing songs nor indirectly refers to that song by quoting its name, artist or lyricist.


Even when one asks ‘Claude’ to write a song about a certain situation, provide musical composition for a tune, or in the style of a certain artist, music producer or songwriter, the resulting output still is a copy of these owners’ lyrics, as under 17 USC §101 or Section 2(m)(i) and or Section (ii) of the Indian Copyright Act. The artists have not given any authorization to permit ‘Claude’ to reproduce their voice or sound; and are often in fact unaware that these ‘simulations’ are being produced and released, even when it is not for commercial exploitation, such as David Guetta ‘adding’ Eminem’s writing style and ‘cadence’ to one of his songs and releasing for free on Twitter.


This is a clear violation of the artist’s personality rights, as held in Bette Midler v. Ford Motor Co. (1988), wherein Ford Motors hired a ‘sound-alike singer’ to imitate Midler’s voice in their advert after she declined their requests to sing for the commercial, which deceived the public into believing that she was the one who sang in the ad. The Court held that Midler had the right of publicity and right of control over her ‘singing voice’ enforceable against any form of misappropriation by Ford and any other person.


Apart from the claim of ‘mass ingestion’ of internet material for songs already released for public exhibition, the second type of infringement alleged is that it also creates songs that don’t exist, by reproducing the copyrighted lyrics without authorization and then ‘fine-tuning’, ‘filtering’ and ‘processing’ it to seem original, without actually removing the copyrighted parts.


Also argued in the comedian Sarah Silverman/Open AI lawsuit, the last objection by the recording companies is towards the removal of ‘copyright management information’ which violates 17 USC §1202(b) under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, such as information about the authors or composers or such aggrieved song owners.


In order to prevent action against such illegal usage/creation, the best solution would arguably be for Anthropic to license the content it copies and distributes, in order to balance their interests with those of the record label, as done by other AI tech companies such as ‘Elf-Tech’ to allow AI creators to collaborate and create music with singer Grimes and other musicians, in exchange for offering equal royalties and songwriting credits.


Unfortunately, for the music industry, their operations in the UK may be affected as the government there is planning to add another exception to the list of fair dealing situations, thus not considering the use of any music roster as copyright infringement if just they ‘train’ on existing songs to create ‘new’ music without actually copying the content of existing songs reproduced by the AI using such data it is trained on.


Contributor: Shreya Deb


Interns and Paralegals.


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