This is like the old Arthur C. Clarke story “The Nine Billion Names Of God”, wherein Tibetan monks use a computer to accelerate their sect’s goal of enumerating every possible name in their language. As they finish, the Universe ends. Oops.
That and unsong which features a kabbalistic sweatshop trying to brute-force names of god.
Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin are heroes!
I can’t wait until the day comes when we as a species no longer feel the need to claim intellectual property. This shit is so stupid.
I agree! I’m glad to see more and more anti-intellectual-property ideas being circulated recently.
I think every project like this one helps to educate the public. Hopefully a time will come when the public realizes just how harmful and counterproductive patents are copyrights truly are, and we can be rid of them.
Only pitch change matters and rhythm does not? Here’s your counterexample. Same notes, same order, different rhythm. Who’s going to say the first four bar phrase is the same melody as the second? ;)
I could definitely see the first melody’s triplets being called embellishments thus matching a shorter melody.
Well, with triplets, an idiot on hurry will say “That’s Verdi’s Aida”. Change triplets to eights, and the response will change to “somewhat like Aida”. Vary other durations, and no one will even think of Aida at some point.
There are plenty of pieces whose basic melody is an unaltered scale, and rhythm is the only distinctive feature. Take Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. The subject of its first movement stops depends on precise durations to remain recognizeable, a slight change turns it into “something with descending major third”.
It might be fun to go to court with two melodies that only differ in rhythm and see the outcome though.
I’m not familiar with copyright law, but it seems that as long as you store something on a hard drive, it becomes automatically copyrightable?
OK, so what if I build an electronic device that can generate a Disjunctive sequence? This is actually trivial: a normal sequence is disjunctive, so all I need is a binary random number generator pewing 0s and 1s with equal probability.
If you that that doesn’t count as “fixed in any tangible medium of expression”, then probably I can simply generate the binary Champernowne sequence:
0 1 00 01 10 11 000 001 ...
This is something where copyright differs a bit depending on where you are. (IANAL but I have an interest in IP law & looked this shit up a few months ago.)
In the United States, copyright is intended to “encourage the useful arts” by “offering a limited monopoly on creative works” and as a result, anything that isn’t the result of creative decisions of a human being is not subject to copyright (or patent – trademark and trade secret is a different matter). This means that, for instance, you can’t copyright accurate maps (since they document an existing landscape), or the facts in a factbook (though their order & presentation can be copyrighted), or any human or animal form that’s accurate, or (critically) the output of known mathematical principles. So, if you built such a thing in the United States, you could not claim copyright on any of its output.
In the EU, there’s something called ‘the database right’ – you can claim copyright on things that otherwise wouldn’t be copyrightable (like facts or mathematics) so long as it took you a lot of effort to obtain the information. For instance, scans of public domain documents performed in the US are public domain but scans of those same documents if done in the EU would be subject to copyright by the organization that paid for the scans. The idea is that if somebody put a lot of effort into, say, compiling a database of names or historical earthquake data or something, it would be a problem for some competitor to just swipe it (and because lots of people are involved in processing it, it can’t really be claimed trade secret).
The thing is, the berne convention applies to both the US and most (maybe all?) of the EU, and the berne convention makes copyrights & patents (from often very different systems) applicable across national lines. So, if you implemented this in the US then the results would be public domain and nobody could subsequently copyright it (even in europe) without adding some kind of creative input, while if you implemented it first in europe then everybody in the US would need to respect your claim even though it would not be legitimate there.
(There are other copyright systems, & other international copyright conventions, which complicates matters. Also, music has some weird IP things like mechanical rights vs writing credits, special casing for covers, etc, & it’s unclear to me how much of this is Law versus how much is just common record company contract boilerplate.)
Anyhow, it’s pretty much moot because at best, such a database would make future stuff a derivative work. And, copyright isn’t (generally speaking) proactively enforced; instead, you sue somebody (and claims like this are not sufficiently guaranteed to win to justify the cost of bringing a record company to court; record companies usually win lawsuits even when they are very obviously in the wrong).
Thanks for letting me know all of these. The law is a little more complicated than I thought, but it makes sense.
However, I’m actually not considering the output of such a device “the output of known mathematical principles”. Let me clarify with another example: the Infinity Hard Drive. It is simply a device that echoes back every single byte you feed into. For example, if you input a document/painting/music, it echoes back the identical document/painting/music.
Say Alice publishes her creative work, and I’m going to sue her for violating my copyright. I have the evidence that if you feed Alice’s work into the Infinity Hard Drive, it will return the identical work. In fact, you can find anything in the Infinity Hard Drive, as long as you know what you are looking for.
You might say “Seriously? You are literally taking Alice’s work to generate yours!” But think about it: what would Alice do if Bob sues her for violating his copyright law? She would read Bob’s work, and try to find the relevant drafts on her desk that proves her work is original and independent. Relevance is the key here, because if Alice has thousands of drafts at hand, it would make no sense to submit all of them to a court in response to a lawsuit concerning a specific work. Alice can take Bob’s work to find her relevant work, so why can’t the Infinity Hard Drive takes someone’s work to find my original work? Maybe Alice doesn’t need to read Bob’s whole work, but this is because her collection is finite. The Infinity Hard Drive is infinite in capacity, so naturally, it takes more information to find a specific work. I am arguing that conceptually, the process is more like taking Alice’s complete work to query my infinite collection of creative works to compute the location where my work resides, rather than generating one from scratch. In fact, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin need to take a melody to find its counterpart in their hard drive, so if their approach works, so will mine.
I probably need to prove that my work is “the result of creative decisions of a human being”, but how could J.K. Rowling prove her work is creative instead of the accurate deception of an alternative universe? If the contents of the Infinity Hard Drive is not copyrightable, then copyrightable nothing is, because it contains everything.
From my understanding, the internal mechanism of the “tangible medium of expression” does not matter. It can be a piece of paper, an SSD, and of course the Infinity Hard Drive. What really matters is the outcome, that “(works) can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
Just for the record, I announce that my infinite collection of works in the Infinity Hard Drive is released into the public domain now. :)
Well, the process can’t be copyrighted. It can be patented.
There’s another wrinkle: you can register a copyright, though you don’t have to. In copyright litigation, if one party registered & the other didn’t, the party that registered usually wins (because copyright registration is generally a more trusted way of dating a work than anything else). (The exception here is Linux, where some guy tried to register the copyright on it & extort Linus out of money years after the initial release, & the legal framework around the Linux Foundation was developed in response to this.) In our theoretical situation, not only do you need to claim that you have a copy of Alice’s work but you need to convince a jury of non-technical people that it was on your hard drive before Alice made hers (and maybe even that Alice knowingly copied you rather than independently reinventing exactly the same thing like Pierre Menard).
What I’m trying to copyright is not the Infinity Hard Drive itself, or the process of “querying” stuff in it, or the idea of making one. I am copyrighting the conceptual content within.
But yeah, this is too good to be practical. It’s a quite fun thought experiment to me, though.
While copyright law is certainly weird, and definitely restrictive, I would not expect it to be possible to demonstrate that any tune I come up with tomorrow is a duplicate of, or derived from, the content of their sequence (because it wouldn’t be), so I don’t think that they have actually copyrighted all tunes (of equal note length and one octave span in Western musical modes).
But they have raised awareness of the absurdity of copyright law, and that’s valuable :).