According tomedia reports, the two programmer musicians wrote all possible MIDI melodies to the hard disk, copyrighted them, and then published them all in an attempt to prevent musicians from being prosecuted. Programmer, musician and copyright lawyer Damien Riehl and musician/programmer Noah Rubin are trying to stop copyright lawsuits that they say stifle the artist’s creative freedom.
Usually in a copyright case for a song melody, an artist who is sued for infringement may be charged with “subconscious” infringement of the original content. One of the most infamous examples in this area is Tom’s claim that Petty Sam Smith’s “Day With Me” sounds very similar to his “I Won’t Back Down” melody. Smith eventually had to pay The Copyright Royalty to Petty.
Defending such a case in court can cost millions of dollars in legal fees, and the results can never be guaranteed. Riehl and Rubin hope to prevent many of these cases through public release. In his latest presentation on the project, Riehl explains that in order to get their melodic database, they algorithmbed to determine each melody contained in a single octave.
To determine the finite nature of the melody, Riehl and Rubin developed an algorithm that records the melodic combinations of each possible 8-tone, 12-beat. This uses the same basic strategy that hackers use to guess passwords: traversing every possible combination of the sound law until there is no rhythm. Riehl says the algorithm works 300,000 times per second.
Works are considered copyrighted once they are submitted in tangible form. In MIDI format, notes are only numbers.
“Numbers are facts under copyright law, and under copyright law, facts are either weak, there is almost no copyright, or there is no copyright at all,” Riehl explained in the conversation. So maybe these numbers have existed since the beginning, and we just pulled them out, maybe the melody is just math, it’s just the truth, there’s no copyright. “
All the melodies they generate, and the code for the algorithms that generate them, are available on Github as open source material, while datasets can be obtained on Internet Archive.
According to the project’s website, Rubin and Riehl used creative Commons Zero licenses to release the melodies, meaning they “have no rights.” Functionally, this means that they are similar to works in the public domain, although copyright lawyers disagree on whether this really allows them to enter the public domain. If a work is a government work or the copyright has expired (within decades of its publication), the work is considered “public domain”. The Creative Commons Zero license is the closest way an artist puts his or her work into the public domain without actively invalidating the copyright.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy will actually work in court.