Here’s Why All Melodies Should be Free To Use

Music copyright is truly a deep subject, but when it all comes down to it the only thing that can be copyrightable is the melody and the lyrics. The problem is that there are only so many melodies that are pleasing to the Western ear available and we’re running out of them. Damien Riehl is a lawyer, musician, computer programmer and technologist and he believes he’s come up with the solution that will set songwriters free.

All melodies should be free to use

Damien and his programmer/musician friend Noah Rubin wrote an algorithm to write every possible melody based on the the 12 notes available in Western music. That amounted to 68 billion files!

By generating these files, fixing them in a hard drive, and releasing them using a Creative Commons Zero license, Damien put them in the public domain in an effort to stop any frivolous copyright infringement cases in the future. It should be noted that Damien and Noah kept no rights for themselves in the process.

Good Idea, Except. . .

This was a pretty good idea, but it might not stand. According to the Columbia Journal of Law And The Arts, “Whether Riehl and Rubin actually own the melodies created autonomously and automatically by their algorithm is doubtful, however. Though the UPSTO is collecting comments on the possibility of artificial intelligence owning the intellectual property it generates,[5] the Copyright Office’s position is that works “produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author” are not protectable,[6] and similarly, courts have suggested that only humans can be authors.[7]”

In other words, as the US Copyright Office recently proclaimed, if a work is generated 100% by a machine, then it can’t be copy written. It must have a human contribute to the work.

That said, Damien gave a wonderful TED Talk recently that explains music copyright, why all melodies should be free to use, and their attempts to free songwriters from infringement, in a simple manner.

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