Claude Stole Katy Perry's Song
The music industry is accusing an A.I. chatbot of infringing on a musical copyright. Do they have a legitimate case?
A few weeks ago, a class of music publishers and labels sued Anthropic, an artificial intelligence start-up that, among other things, operates the chatbot Claude. Claude, named after the famed mathematician and information theorist Claude Shannon, is like the more well-known ChatGPT in that users can type questions and have Claude reply with helpful (though sometimes error-ridden) answers. Here, for example, is me asking Claude for some information on Miles Davis.
One of the problems that the music industry has with these chatbots is that if you ask them for lyrics to popular songs, they return those lyrics. “What’s the issue with that, Chris?” you may ask. “I’ve been able to read lyrics online for decades.” The answer to that question is somewhat complex. Given that we’ve talked about artificial intelligence in this newsletter before, I wanted to pick apart the complexities of this lawsuit.
Technological Fears & Legal Rights
In an earlier newsletter, I noted that even though the word “copyright” sort of defines itself, it’s good to remind ourselves all that it entails:
Copyright establishes that you not only created but own your work. It gives you the right to reproduce (or copy) it (i.e., publish copies of your magazine), perform it publicly (i.e., sing your song in concert), and make derivatives (i.e., film a movie based on your book). In certain cases, copyright also gives you the power to prevent others from using your creation without your permission (i.e., somebody can’t sample a recording you made if they don’t have your consent).
There are two types of musical copyrights. One for the composition, and one for the sound recording. The former consists of melody, chords, and lyrics. The latter, according to the U.S. government’s copyright office, is a “series of musical, spoken, or other sounds fixed in a recording medium, such as a CD or digital file, called a ‘phonorecord.’”
It might seem weird that there are two different copyrightable musical objects (i.e., the composition and the recording), but it’s actually quite necessary. I’ll explain why with an example.
In 2013, Jason Isbell wrote, recorded, and released “Cover Me Up” for his album Southeastern. Why would he need two copyrights if the song itself and the recording are both done by him? That’s because even though it was all Jason Isbell on that release, it doesn’t always have to be. In 2021, Morgan Wallen recorded a version of the song for his album Dangerous: The Double Album. It’s still Jason Isbell’s song even though it’s Morgan Wallen’s recording.
The lawsuit against Anthropic is based around the idea that artists, labels, and music publishers own the copyrights related to song lyrics. If someone asks Claude or ChatGPT the lyrics to Lana Del Ray’s “A&W” and they want to display those lyrics, they need to receive a license from the relevant copyright holder and then compensate them duly.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Can't Get Much Higher to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.