Jun 26, 2024 2 min read

AI lawsuit filed by music publishers in Tennessee move to California

When a group of music publishers filed a lawsuit against AI company Anthropic, they chose a court in Tennessee, as they all have offices in Nashville. Anthropic said the legal battle should be fought in its home state of California. A judge has considered that argument and sided with the AI company

AI lawsuit filed by music publishers in Tennessee move to California

A judge in Tennessee has ruled that a lawsuit filed by a group of music publishers against AI company Anthropic should be transferred to the courts in California. 

The music companies accuse Anthropic of copyright infringement for allegedly using their lyrics without permission when it trained its AI chatbot, Claude. Anthropic denies those allegations, and criticised the publishers’ decision to file their lawsuit with the courts in Tennessee. 

Claude “was created, trained and developed in California”, noted judge Waverly D Crenshaw in his judgement. Plus, "Anthropic’s offices in the US are all located in California, with the vast majority of Anthropic’s 261 employees” living and working there. 

While the AI company does have a presence in other parts of the US, it doesn’t in Tennessee. “The computers and data used to train Claude are hosted in Virginia, the servers that host Claude are based in Iowa, and Claude’s source code is located remotely with a Delaware company, Github, whose headquarters are in California”. 

The music publishers behind the litigation all have bases in Nashville, Tennessee, although - with the exception of Concord - their main US offices are in either California or New York. 

This is why Anthropic argued that the case in Tennessee should be dismissed on jurisdiction grounds, the argument being that California - where many of the other AI copyright lawsuits have been filed - would be a much better place to fight this legal battle. 

The publishers disagreed, insisting that “Anthropic claims that it is subject to jurisdiction only in its Silicon Valley backyard”, and that that claim “is plainly wrong". 

In his judgement, Crenshaw explained what would be required for his court to have jurisdiction over the dispute. Despite Concord having its main base in Nashville, the publishers would need to be able to demonstrate that Anthropic had “expressly aimed” its business activities in Tennesee. 

In an attempt to justify their request for the case to be heard in the state, the publishers presented four arguments: that Anthropic has employees in Tennessee; that it has business users in Tennessee; that it reaches Tennessee consumers via its websites; and - possibly most importantly in this case - that it infringes the music companies’ copyrights within the state. 

However, the judge highlighted issues with all four arguments. There are only three Anthropic employees in the state, they each work from home and none of them were hired on the basis of their location. Also, although Anthropic has three business clients in the state, it didn’t target those clients because of their location either. 

Anthropic’s website being available in Tennessee would only mean the company had “expressly aimed” its business at the state if there were interactions on the site “specifically intended” for people living there. The publishers argued that Claude can generate responses including information specific to Tennessee, but Crenshaw said that wasn’t specific enough. 

Finally, Crenshaw said that the claim that Anthropic infringes the music publishers’ copyrights in Tennessee was just another way of saying consumers use the website there - which was an argument that he’d already rejected.

With all that in mind, concluded the judge, “this case will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California”.

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