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.
“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.