Lawyer aspires to copyright all possible melodies for the public domain – Not Everyone is Singing his Tune

Is it possible to copyright every possible melody? A lawyer says he has and that it is good for musicians and the music industry. Not everyone agrees.

Lawyer and musician, Damien Riehl, and programmer, Noah Rubin, believe they have accomplished something no lawyer or musician has done before. By using an algorithm they say they have generated “every possible” melody in an attempt to end music copyright lawsuits, and in so doing, put an end to original songs.

68 Billion Melodies

Riehl and Rubin claim to have built software capable of generating 300,000 melodies each second, creating a catalogue of 68 billion 8-note melodies, the UK’s Independent reported. The melodies were then copyrighted and released into the public domain in the hope of stifling litigious musicians.

Not everyone believe what Riehl is doing is possible or ethical.

“It’s bullshit,” says David Lowery, lead singer of Cracker, professor of music business at the University of Georgia and publisher of the Trichordist, a music industry blog. “Never mind problems with authorship, the algorithm doesn’t account for dynamics, such as tempo changes. Think of the ‘Jaws’ theme. It’s also only diatonic scales, but that does not make it a derivative work.

“Unlike with inventions, where patents rely on novelty,” continues Lowery, “there is no prior art search required to secure a copyright. If we take Riehl’s claim at face value, the 400 copyrighted songs I wrote over 25 years are still a fact. These copyrighted works can not be public property because a computer program says they have already been created.” 

Riehl’s TedX Talk accessible below is worth watching for its sheer boldness and audacity.

Damien Riehl on TedX

Citing famous examples of music copyright infringement lawsuits, Mr Riehl said his motivation was to demonstrate that the number of possible melodies is finite and therefore exposed to patterns being repeated unintentionally.

Led Zeppelin recently defended itself successfully in a significant case that accused it of copyright theft. John Lennon, George Harrison and others have not been so lucky.

The melodies created by the algorithm created by Riehl and Rubin were stored in MIDI form onto a small hard drive, which they claim now contains “every melody that’s ever existed and ever can exist”.

Lack of Certainty

A similar strategy to preempt the rights to new inventions was attempted by three attorneys in 2016, when the website, All Prior Art, attempted to stop patents on new inventions dead in their tracks by making them “automatically” un-patentable because of existing prior art, i.e. global inventions or published research (see IP CloseUp for coverage).

However, programming a computer to disclose an endless combination of dubious inventions is only effective at stopping bad patents in theory, not practice. The courts have not accepted the programs out put as legitimate disclosure.

“The copyright system is broken and it needs updating,” concludes Riehl, a Managing Director of Fastcase, which “uses patented software that combines the best of legal research with the best of Web search.”

“Under copyright law, numbers are facts, and under copyright law, facts either have thin copyright, almost no copyright, or no copyright at all.”

Fraught With Danger

Effectively eliminating new copyrights (or patents) may seem like a good idea to a handful of successful technology businesses, internet companies and music celebs fearful they may have, unwittingly or not, appropriated more from a work they admire than is legal. All would prefer not to incur the cost of a license. Both patents and copyright can be a gray area best left to the courts to determine – for those who can afford it.

Uninformed consumers who simply think that fewer IP rights will result in their paying less for the products and creations they love will likely be disappointed. And they will be disappointed, too, when the most successful musicians, authors, designers and inventors are in the position to thrive at the expense of the less solvent.

Without new copyrights and patents the world be a much narrower place informed by the financially strong. Taylor Swift gets this.

Lack of IP protection will not help the vast majority of creators to survive, and small businesses, the source of the greatest job growth, to thrive.

Image source: TedX; resourcesforlife.com

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