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.

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Comments on “Copyrighting Pi: Composer Pretends Only He Can Write A Song Based On Pi”

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54 Comments
RD says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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?

RD says:

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.

RD says:

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.

Chargone (profile) says:

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. )

Billy Wenge-Murphy says:

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.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Benjamin Sonntag (profile) says:

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!

G Thompson (profile) says:

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)

Billy Wenge-Murphy says:

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!

Billy Wenge-Murphy says:

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

Рајко Ве says:

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

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