No one wants their song ripped off without credit, but songwriters will tell you that coming up with something totally original is getting harder and harder. That’s because Western music is limited to a 12 note scale, which makes the note combinations, especially the ones that we find pleasing, somewhat limited. No matter which side of the argument you come down on, Spotify’s European patent application for a plagiarism detector technology could change the songwriting game yet again.
The “Plagiarism Risk Detector And Interface” pertains to “Methods, systems and computer program products..for testing a lead sheet for plagiarism,” according to the patent filing. A lead sheet is read by the platform’s “plagiarism detector”, and “having been trained on a plurality of preexisting encoded lead sheets”, then compares the song to all others stored in its database. What could possibly go wrong?
Just to be clear, the technology isn’t initially meant to root out suspicious songs on Spotify’s platform. It’s mean to be used during the copyright process in order to lessen the need for human checking. That means it’s only comparing lead sheets that accompany the submission for copyright, not to Spotify.
It you look at it from a songwriter’s perspective, this might be a tough nut to crack. If you just poured you soul into a brand new song, go through the process of recording it, then file for a copyright only to find that it’s too similar to another composition (the usual sequence of events), then you’ve just spent a lot of time on a project that you probably won’t want to release. The risk of a copyright lawsuit might be too great.
On the other hand, if you write the song and submit it for copyright first, perhaps you can find the elements that could be potential litigious so that you can then rewrite the song to avoid them. That’s changing the songwriting process (especially with electronic music) on its head.
Already half of the music world is complaining about how songwriting has changed in order to accommodate the Spotify algorithm, with few intros, a jump right to the chorus, and planting as many hooks as possible to keep fans listening to the 30 second mark when it will be counted for a listen. It’s plagiarism detector might take that to yet another level.