A pair of musicians recorded every possible MIDI melody just to get around copyright law

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/02/26/a-pair-of-musicians-recorded-e.html

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I’m waiting for someone to create a version of Shazam that will take a new song you wrote and let you know if you accidentally ripped off a pre-existing song.

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So, in doing this, they’ve copied every existing melody, in addition to not-yet-existing ones. How’s that going to work, legally?

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The point is that it doesn’t matter if you accidentally “rip off” a previously recorded melody. There’s only 12 freaking notes available, and only 7 if you wanna stay in key.

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IANAL

But from what I understand, you can’t “rip off” a tune you’ve never had a chance to hear, so there’s a threshold of exposure that has to be met by anyone claiming you’ve stolen their melody.

But ultimately, I guess, this will be up to the courts to decide anyway. Not very inspiring of confidence when you consider the following.

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They should get a Nobel or something

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Copyright, in theory, is supposed to allow for independent creation, where two people without access to the others work can both create the same thing, and both have copyright to their own creation. The test is two parts. Did they have access? Was the result substantially similar?
In practice the courts have eroded the ‘access’ part from we know they had access, to we think they had access, to they might have had access, to it was possible they had access. Making that part of the criteria pointless.

This project is an attempt to flip the second test in favor of independent creation by providing a public domain library of similar melodies you can point to, “I didn’t copy him, I copied this instead.”

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Pretty sure that if you just algorithmically list all possible melodies, none of them are any human’s creative work, and therefore no part of the exercise gets any copyright protection. (Except the code you wrote to do the thing, but that’s beside the point).

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They’ve produced a musical equivalent to a phone book.

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A phone book with no names. (so far?)

A savvy (or sinister?) songwriter might want to take their tunes and find/reference them in this collection to ward off future claims.

edit: somewhat interesting imagining classifying melody/harmony/bass in verse/chorus/bridge of a given song. Time for the deep dream of pop music?

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You’re not wrong: Previously on Boing Boing

2 days ago, to be precise.

There was a professor when I was in college some 20 years ago who had a digital art-piece which would cycle through every permutation of pixels on a screen, claiming it would eventually display every possible image ever… Fun idea!

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How many in total? The archive files look like 6+6G . How long would they take to listen to?

The difference between AI as discussed in that story and the simple computer program in this case is that for an AI you set it up and it does what ever it decides to do, there is arguably no human direction. The AI is using its own “creativity”, not the operator.
In this case a human directed the program to produce the results. There is no creativity in the program it self any creativity that exists in the results must be from the human input. That tiniest amount of human intention could be enough to grant copyright in the results.

I don’t know that courts in the future will buy the arguments in either direction, so it’s a bad idea to declare that any of this is or is not covered by copyright until courts and legislatures have had a few passes at it.

It wouldn’t ward off future claims. Judge generally aren’t receptive to arguments like this. It would be like taking an MP3 of a song and printing out the data in a long number and claiming the MP3 isn’t copyrightable because it’s ultimately just a number that has always existed.

Right, but there are vastly fewer melodies than MP3s. That’s why I asked above how many there are.

IDK if this matters to a court, but there is zero creativity in the resulting melodies, though. All creativity that went into this was about trolling copyright, not about music. (trolling copyright that way is great, don’t get me wrong here).

However, having all those melodies accessible would even work if they’re not copyrighted, right? Because they create a probable claim that you copied this, and not some other copyrighted piece.

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By that definition no generative music qualifies for copyright. Maybe not eve using an arpeggiator.

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The law isn’t a set of if-then statements.

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I don’t have a reference handy, but IIRC there was a court case in the past couple years where a christian musician with something like 1M streams on a christian station/channel/whatever made a successful case of infringement against that the person who “copied” them on the grounds that the 1M streams of exposure was sufficiently popular that the “infringer” must have heard it, even though there was no other evidence to support the claim.

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