Copyrighting Pi: Composer Pretends Only He Can Write A Song Based On Pi

from the pi-fight dept

Copyright madness continues. March 14th is often referred to as "Pi day," because when the date is written out numerically (at least in the nonsensical way we Americans write out dates), it's written as 3/14, which is the beginning of pi. It's a fun bit of meaningless, and someone in Portland, named Michael Blake, decided to have some fun with it and and wrote a song based on pi:
His approach? He decided the song would be in C, then assigned each note a number: C=1, D=2 and so on up through 9. Using those assignments, he played the sequence of pi: 3.14159 through 31 decimal places. He assigned numbers to chords, too, but could only play the chords every other note and still make it sound vaguely musical.

Finally, he used pi as the basis for the tempo it's 157 beats per minute, which is half of 314. He played this part on several instruments, as you can see in the video above, and layered them to make a song. The result isn't exactly catchy, but it's certainly melodic.
Nice enough idea. And he then took the result and uploaded it to YouTube. But... after the song started getting some attention, people quickly noted that the video was taken down, supposedly over a copyright claim from a guy named Lars Erickson.
Who? Turns out that there's some guy named Lars Erickson who had a similar idea 20 years ago and composed his own pi symphony... and he copyrighted it. That symphony was performed just last year. Not surprisingly, the ridiculous copyright claim got plenty of attention and Erickson is speaking up and asking for a "cease fire," but his reasoning doesn't make much sense:
"I am not interested in suppressing the melody of Pi, or copyrighting the number, Pi. I simply filed a copyright on the melody when I devoted a considerable amount of time writing the Pi Symphony. I have spoken to Michael Blake and his actions of removing comments referring to Pi Symphony was what spurred me to action. Heck, I am sure we can work this out, but right now, 1:59 is right around the corner, so how about a momentary cease fire."
There are all sorts of problems with this reasoning. First of all, even if he claims he's not trying to suppress the melody or copyrighting the number, that's effectively what he did. He suppressed someone else who came up with the same thing independently. And (unlike with patents) "independent" creation that is identical is allowed under copyright. It's just incredibly rare that it happens. On that issue, we point back to Judge Learned Hand's famous statement:
... if by some magic a man who had never known it were to compose anew Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn, he would be an "author," and, if he copyrighted it, others might not copy that poem, though they might of course copy Keats's.
So Blake's "independent" creation would bar any copyright issue. Separately, of course, there's the question of whether or not the original work can actually be copyrighted, and there may be some copyright claim, but only on the creativity added by Erickson, meaning that the underlying idea and the number, clearly, could not be part of the copyright. So Erickson's claim again falls short. On top of that, people are saying that the two songs do have some differences as well, raising even more questions.

Finally, Erickson appears to admit that his issue wasn't copyright related at all, which suggests he knows that he has purposely misused the DMCA (a no-no) and could face sanctions for doing so. He only took it down because he was upset about Blake removing comments pointing people to his version. Now, it should be pointed out that, if true, this seems like a pretty petty move on Blake's part. Removing those comments is lame. But, that doesn't make it okay to abuse copyright law to issue a false takedown.

But, of course, these are the kinds of absolutely ridiculous situations we get into in today's society, where people are taught (not quite correctly) that they can "own" concepts like this.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    With a touch of the dramatic, one could call the entire universe "a song based on Pi"

     

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    RD, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:17am

    much ado about nothing

    Well, since there is NO penalty whatsoever for issuing a false DMCA notice/takedown, this will impact him not at all. In fact, it should enbolden him to seek out other Pi-music related videos and have them banned too. Why not? If its good enough for the RIAA and MPAA (and they have yet to EVER be sanctioned, punished, or even scolded for blatantly filing false takedowns), it should be open season for anyone else too.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:33am

      Re: much ado about nothing

      since there is NO penalty whatsoever for issuing a false DMCA notice/takedown

      The meds are wearing off, you capitalized a couple of words here for NO REASON AT ALL.

      The DMCA laws have a pretty significant "false claim" provision. Perhaps you might want to brush up on the law before you state such nonsense?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:40am

        Re: Re: much ado about nothing

        Perhaps you might want to get your sarcasm meter fixed.

         

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        RD, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 11:12am

        Re: Re: much ado about nothing

        "The DMCA laws have a pretty significant "false claim" provision. Perhaps you might want to brush up on the law before you state such nonsense?"

        Please, pray tell, how valid is a law that is never and has never been enforced even ONE time against the most egregious offenders? I think the world would really like to know.

         

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        RD, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 11:15am

        Re: Re: much ado about nothing

        "since there is NO penalty whatsoever for issuing a false DMCA notice/takedown

        The meds are wearing off, you capitalized a couple of words here for NO REASON AT ALL."

        I capitalize "NO" and that makes me off my meds? Maybe you should find something more useful to do with your worthless existence, if the best you can come up with is to troll boards pointing out useless things like this that add nothing (NOTHING I SAY!) to the discussion. Oh and DMCA IS supposed to be capitalized when used in this manner. YOU might want to brush up on YOUR legal terminology before opening your yap again.

         

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          Chargone (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: much ado about nothing

          pretty sure he was refering to your 'capitalisation for emphasis' bit.

          ... to be fair i tend to confuse everyone by using initial caps for that and forgetting to capitalise sentences, but i get called on that less often than the whole 'whole word in caps' thing manages... (of course, the people who complain about it at all tend to be more bitchy... or sometimes just genuinly confused, as opposed to pointing out that it's not really considered good etiquette. )

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:52am

      Re: much ado about nothing

      There are potential criminal penalties for making false statements in a DMCA notice (since a proper DMCA notice is supposed to be sworn under penalty of perjury), but it's a hard case to make and prosecutors have bigger fish to fry.

       

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      Billy Wenge-Murphy, Mar 17th, 2011 @ 11:43pm

      Re: much ado about nothing

      The RIAA and MPAA takedowns are filed automatically through the content recognition system, so you can easily argue that they're "in good faith" - as weird as it sounds to ever assume they do anything "in good faith"....but, legally speaking....

      He went to a specific video and manually filed a claim out of spite. That is not "in good faith". He knew what he was doing. To do it that way is perjurous.

      But you're right that it's unlikely someone will actually be punished for that. I don't think anyone has yet, but I'd be interested to hear a case where they were. In order for it to act as a deterrent, there has to be a real fear of conviction for perjury; otherwise, it allows people to use the DMCA to chill speech for any reason at all.

       

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    All Your Base Are Belong to E, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    I'm copyrighting e

    I'm copyrighting the melody of the mathematical constant e=2.71828... so keep your hands off. By the way, this is a pretty frickin easy way to write music.

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:47am

      Re: I'm copyrighting e

      How many irrational numbers exist in math?

       

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        Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re: I'm copyrighting e

        e & pi are extra special - they aren't just irrational but transcendental :)

         

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        Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:58am

        Re: Re: I'm copyrighting e

        (but to answer your question, an infinite number of irrational numbers exist in math - and actually infinite transcendental ones too, they just aren't usually significant in any way)

         

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        :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 10:16am

        Re: Re: I'm copyrighting e

        "How many irrational numbers exist in math?"
        All of them! Duh.

         

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        Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 3:55pm

        Re: How many irrational numbers exist in maths?

        Exactly 100% of the real numbers are irrational. The rationals make up the remaining 0%.

         

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          G Thompson (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 11:57pm

          Re: Re: How many irrational numbers exist in maths?

          Except for those not in the set of Q ;)

          To me irrational numbers are just not natural.

           

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          nasch (profile), Mar 17th, 2011 @ 3:42pm

          Re: Re: How many irrational numbers exist in maths?

          Not sure how you reached that number, but it is true that the irrational numbers take up all the space on the number line.

           

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      G Thompson (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 11:51pm

      I take your E and apply the golden rule

      well I'm going to be more Geometrically sound then your silly attempt at e.

      The golden ratio (φ) not only looks cool, its geometrically irrational as sound should be :)


      Though I suspect some fool will bring it all to a transcendental and irrational END by using the Omega constant ( Ω )

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:52am

    I'm going to copyright any melody based on the ratios of the planets orbital diameters.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 9:52am

    The underlying copyright claim seems bogus, but I don't really understand the criticism of his "cease fire" attempt.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 10:02am

    Here's a much better-sounding piece of music based on the same idea. (Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a recording of it, only the sheet music on the site.)

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 10:16am

    Illegal Numbers

    The whole idea of illegal numbers has been noted for years, so this was only a matter of time.

     

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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    The pi is a fake.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    1.Take one example of a buffoon and try to call it "copyright madness".

    2. Hope normal people will hate copyright because of it.

    3. Fail to do so.

    4. Wake up tomorrow and try again.

     

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      Chargone (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:57pm

      Re:

      ... take one example of a bafoon behaving the same way as the corporations do.

      call the entire set of behaviour copyright madness.

      hope normal people will see that this is stupid and the current copyright law is enabling such stupid behaviour.

      succeed to a limited extent but get trolled by lame trolls (who are lame)

      repeat until those who disagree and have power die off and are replaced by those who agree. hope the situation isn't irreparably broken by then.

       

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    Prashanth (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 1:56pm

    A couple friends I know made a song about pi on various instruments using the first 9 digits. Is that infringement? (Hint: I certainly hope not.)

     

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    Benjamin Sonntag (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:50pm

    Pure Mathematical Analysis :

    What I find very interesting in this idea of "kind of copyrighting the idea of writing music from pi", is that PI precisely have very important feature as a number : it's a transcendent number (not sure it's the right word, I'm not English-native). It means that you will always find more decimals to it, with no apparent repetition.
    The consequence is that PI decimals WILL contain every combination of "notes" already wrote, or to be written in human history.
    That's a wicked copyright idea!

     

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    Jesse (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 4:22pm

    If you base a work in any way off of something in the public domain (i.e. a number) it should not be copyrightable. If you like the idea of "owning" ideas/expressions, then you shouldn't "steal" from the public.

     

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    Joseph K (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 11:31pm

    Find the video elsewhere

    I'm just wanted to point out that if you want to hear the song, it's been uploaded elsewhere. I just did a search of "What Pi Sounds Like" on google video and came up with a bunch of hits. Several people have even uploaded it onto youtube. There must be an instructive lesson in there somewhere.

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 17th, 2011 @ 12:07am

    Talking about numbers irrational, real, or just illegal

    I have figured out how the trolls think on techdirt.

    Its easy if you look at there mathematical assumptions

    If you take the basic truths of
    1 x 0 = 0, and
    2 x 0 = 0

    Therefore they conflate that:

    0 x 1 = 0 x 2

    Using basic simplification and removing the same factor on both sides of equation [or divide each side by by zero and not get -i) gives:

    0/0 x 1 = 0/0 x 2 2.

    Simplified, yields:

    1 = 2

    therefore statistical conflation is achieved and a troll is born.. I will call this one the "sum of RIAA" (well better than AC/AJ)

     

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    freak (profile), Mar 17th, 2011 @ 4:28am

    I should mention as well, for the pedagogical value, that Tau is the true circle constant.

    Tau = 2Pi, simply.

    This makes many operations involving Pi much easier. For example, half a circle in radians? Half a Tau. Quarter Circle? Quarter Tau.

    Check out this manifesto. which explains it in a lot more detail.
    http://tauday.com/

     

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    freak (profile), Mar 17th, 2011 @ 4:28am

    I should mention as well, for the pedagogical value, that Tau is the true circle constant.

    Tau = 2Pi, simply.

    This makes many operations involving Pi much easier. For example, half a circle in radians? Half a Tau. Quarter Circle? Quarter Tau.

    Check out this manifesto. which explains it in a lot more detail.
    http://tauday.com/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2011 @ 5:54am

    Wow how come no-one's brought up the piece 'Pi' by Michael Pisaro? Why didn't Lars Erickson have a problem with Pisaro writing a solo piano piece based entirely on pi?

     

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    Billy Wenge-Murphy, Mar 18th, 2011 @ 12:31am

    Uh oh, they're both infringing from this site which has a massive archive of what various sequences sound like:

    http://oeis.org/play?seq=A000796

    My Youtube account is enabled for infinitely long uploads, so I'll just go ahead and computer-generate a video that contains all the interesting sequences you can think of, in every major and minor key. Then nobody can have any of them. ALL MINE! Once I do that, I get to submit takedowns against absolutely any curious math and music student for the next 150-some years!

     

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    Billy Wenge-Murphy, Apr 9th, 2011 @ 1:53pm

    Michael John Blake finally got his video restored weeks after he filed his counter-claim. Now - much to my surprise - Lars has moved to the next phase: an actual lawsuit

    http://dockets.justia.com/docket/nebraska/nedce/8:2011cv00127/55154/

    Here's hoping the case is thrown out quickly so Lars Erickson the Bully and coward doesn't get to bankrupt poor Michael

     

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    Рајко Ве, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    I found a new formula for the number of PI = 3.141 ..
    Pi = n / 2 (sin (360 / n))
    sin in degrees
    n {3,4,5,6,7 ...................... infinitely}
    n = 3 it is a triangle, n = infinity this is a circle

     

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    identicon
    Рајко Ве, Jul 18th, 2011 @ 1:48pm

    I found a new formula for the number of PI = 3.141 ..
    Pi = n / 2 (sin (360 / n))
    sin in degrees
    n {3,4,5,6,7 ...................... infinitely}
    n = 3 it is a triangle, n = infinity this is a circle

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Рајко Ве, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 3:37am

    I found a new formula for the number of PI
    PI=180*m*sin(1/m)
    sin in degrees
    for m=10 :PI=3.14159
    for m=100:PI= 3.1415926
    for m=1000 :PI=3.141592653
    for m=10 000 :PI=3.14159265358
    for m=100 000 :PI=3.1415926535897
    for m=1000 000 :PI=3.141592653589793
    for m=10000000:PI= 3.14159265358979323
    for m=100000000 :PI=3.1415926535897932384
    for m=1000000000:PI= 3.141592653589793238462
    For millions across the value of PI free calculator XP,XM,.. recommend m=1.0E+10000000
    to the success of the calculator you need to install netframework2.0
    http://harry-j-smith-memorial.com/index.html
    Рајко Велимировић

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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