# Judge Chooses Pi Day To Reject Lawsuit Over Attempt To Copyright Pi As A Song

Last year, we wrote about a dispute between two guys who had both recorded songs based on the number pi. A guy named Lars Erickson had recorded The Pi Symphony back in 1992 and registered a copyright on the output. It was based on assigning notes to the numbers 0 to 9, then playing them according to the sequence of pi. On March 14th, 2011 -- also known as Pi Day, since the 3/14 date matches the 3.14 beginning of pi -- musician Michael Blake came up with a similar idea. According to NPR's report on the song:
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.

Blake successfully had the lawsuit transferred from Nebraska to Portland, Oregon, and has now succeeded in having the case dismissed, with the ruling itself issued on March 14 -- Pi Day once again. The ruling is embedded below, and it's a worthwhile read, highlighting the limitations of copyright. It actually goes into a fairly detailed description of the separation between ideas and expression, as well as questions about "substantial similarity." The conclusion:
The primary similarity between Pi Symphony and "What Pi Sounds Like" is the musical pattern formed by transposing the digits of pi to a set of musical notes. That pattern is not protected by Mr. Erickson’s copyright for Pi Symphony. Pi is a non-copyrightable fact, and the transcription of pi to music is a non-copyrightable idea. The resulting pattern of notes is an expression that merges with the non-copyrightable idea of putting pi to music: assigning digits to musical notes and playing those notes in the sequence of pi is an idea that can only be expressed in a finite number of ways. This does not mean that Mr. Erickson’s copyright is invalid, only that Mr. Erickson may not use his copyright to stop others from employing this particular pattern of musical notes.

What may be protected by copyright is the combination of that pattern with other musical elements: the choice of scale, rhythm, harmony, and embellishments or variation, for example.... Pi Symphony and "What Pi Sounds Like" employ different rhythms, different phrasing, different harmonies, and different tempos. The court does not agree with Mr. Erickson that the melodies of Pi Symphony and "What Pi Sounds Like" are sufficiently similar in their cadence or tempo to raise a question of substantial similarity. If there are additional similarities that relate to protectable elements of Mr. Erickson’s musical work, those similarities are minor and scattered throughout the work. For one work to be substantially similar to another, more than incidental and occasional similarities are required....

Thus, after the similarities based on unprotected elements of Pi Symphony are set aside, very few--if any--similarities remain. Mr. Erickson’s copyright is therefore “thin” and protects his work only from virtually identical copying...
The court also dismisses Erickson's claim of "unfair competition," noting that what appeared to be straight up jealousy is no reason for a legal claim:
Copyright protects against the copying of original elements of an author’s work. It does not protect the copyright holder's goodwill, market status, or artistic success. It does not even protect the author's hard work in being the first to create a compilation of information otherwise available in the public domain. See Feist, 499 U.S. at 359-360 (rejecting the “sweat of the brow” theory of copyright protection). These limitations derive from the constitutional basis of copyright, which is “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” U.S. Const. art. 1, sec. 8, cl. 8. Copyright is thus intended to protect the original work of authors without granting monopolies over facts or ideas that would hinder further progress.... Given statutory law, the Constitution, and Supreme Court precedent, Mr. Erickson cannot use his copyright to stop Mr. Blake from employing the same idea—the transcription of the digits of pi to musical notes.
Nice to see the court lay out the reasoning so clearly. It's unclear if the court recognized the symbolic nature of issuing the ruling on Pi Day, but either way, it was a nice move.

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Filed Under: copyright, facts, lars erickson, michael blake, pi, pi song, pi symphony

1. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:34am

Pi?

Suckers should have used Tau!
2. Rikuo (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:38am

Holy......................

A judge quoted "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" in a copyright case?

I...am stunned. Literally stunned. I am not joking or kidding. Its been AGES since I've heard that clause being used.
3. Adrian Lopez, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:43am

I'm tempted to make a program that plays back Pi according to a randomly chosen scale. If a computer can trivially "compose" something like "Pi in C-Major", it's clear to me the result isn't really worthy of copyright protection.
4. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:43am

### Re:

Suddenly a tousand MAFIAA lobbyists screamd and die in agony
5. That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:48am

### Re: Re:

PICS OR IT ISN'T FUNNY!

:D
6. Pixelation, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:49am

Looks like Lars Erickson got Pi in the face.
7. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:56am

### This will simply confuse the RIAA

Pi is obviously too advanced of a mathematical concept for them. As has been pointed out many times math is not their strong suit.
8. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:59am

### Re: Re: Re:

If I would have gory pics it would be insightful!
9. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:00am

### My favorite quote from the decision...

is the one Mike highlighted in bold. Now the question is, since that particular quote has now been handed down in a decision in a legal case, does it specifically constitute a legal precedent? If so, that could be useful in the future.
10. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:03am

What if I patented the constant e
11. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:05am

### Re: This will simply confuse the RIAA

But ... but 113% is all!

Evryone knows this!
12. G Thompson (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:20am

mmmmmmmmmmmm Pi

Think the Judge needs one baked, and the plaintiff needs one in his face!
13. G Thompson (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:23am

### Re:

nope that would be an imaginary patent ;)
14. That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:24am

### Re: Re: Re: Re:

I imagined them bursting into flames and leaving behind small piles of copyrighted dust or melting like the wicked witch.
15. That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:25am

### Re: Re: This will simply confuse the RIAA

Oh goody the Faux News statistician is here.
16. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:28am

Yet Bruce Springsteen is a "pirate remixer".

Gotta love Techdirt for being a consistent sort of a place.
17. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:32am

### Re:

non sequiter, 0/10
18. G Thompson (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:38am

### Re:

Did you stop to think and forget to start again?
19. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:43am

### Re: Re: Re: This will simply confuse the RIAA

Pssst...

Its EU not Faux
20. Devonavar (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:53am

### I can see it now...

I'm sure the appeal will be filed soon, on grounds that the court was irrational that day...
21. TtfnJohn (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:55am

### Re: My favorite quote from the decision...

I don't know American law well enough to say that it's precedent setting in or outside of Oregon but it certainly has the look of something future judges can take into account in the future because of the clarity of the statement and that, as I read it, it makes that statement in the context of the US Constitution.

If it does become precedent I can see it being used in other countries that follow the Statue of Anne model of copyright in that it clarifies, beyond doubt I'd say, what copyright does and does not protect in the marketplace.
22. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 10:02am

### Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

I imagined disintegrated pieces of skullbones due to cerebral vakuum
23. Robert Doyle (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 10:21am

"A guy named Lars Erickson had recorded The Pi Symphony back in 1992 and registered a copyright on the output. It was based on assigning notes to the numbers 0 to 9, then playing them according to the sequence of pi."

Why is all that I can think of is...

This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends, some people, started singing it not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever just because...
This is the song that never ends...
24. Malibu Cusser (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 10:34am

Erickson just did it wrong. He should have applied for a patent for "a system or method of assigning musical notes to the numbers or numerical sequences of established mathematical constants." Then he could have filed in East Texas and been home free.
25. Anon, 19 Mar 2012 @ 1:00pm

### Infinity

Somewhere along the infinite stretch of numbers that constitute pi there must be a sequence of notes that matches a Beethoven symphony, Lady Gaga's latest hit...
26. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 2:41pm

Musicians named Lars don't have a reputation for rational thinking.
27. MahaliaShere (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 3:11pm

### I'm cynical

" It does not protect the copyright holder's goodwill, market status, or artistic success."

Could be as simple as the judge seeing this as a "geek/nerd" thing and therefore unworthy of copyright protection. I get that pi is a fact, but confused as to why the music couldn't be copyrightable.
28. Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 19 Mar 2012 @ 6:52pm

### Re: I can see it now...

So you think the case will end up going round in circles?

Circumferentially, as it were...
29. ottonomy (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 8:59pm

### Re:

That was so refreshing to read in a legal opinion. Please everybody, remember the basis of your monopoly!
30. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 10:05pm

Pi cannot be copyrighted because pi lasts forever, and copyright only lasts forever minus a day.
31. Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2012 @ 10:37pm

### Re:

There is one exception: MC Lars has churned out songs like "Download This Song" and "Scientology = WTF?".
32. Ninja (profile), 20 Mar 2012 @ 6:45am

I kept thinking of some geeky mathematical joke with pi and this article but none of my ideas sounded that good.
33. Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2012 @ 7:23pm

This guy clearly should have taken a lesson from the music industry - you don't base copyright claims on pi, or other transcendental numbers. You base them on i - and other imaginary numbers.
34. wvhillbilly (profile), 26 Apr 2012 @ 10:35am

Seems to me like this guy is trying to claim patent rights for a copyright. You can patent ideas, you can't copyright them.

This reminds me of the silly fight over two pictures by different photographers of a red bus on a B & W background. The only similarity between the two pictures was the red bus on a monochrome background, otherwise the two were quite dissimilar, even being taken in different locations. Copyright only protects against verbatim copying of protected material, in part or in whole, one's expression of an idea. It does not protect against someone else using an idea you came up with first.

Claiming rights on a copyrighted work not granted by copyright law is copyright abuse, which is in itself a crime.
35. wvhillbilly (profile), 26 Apr 2012 @ 10:55am

### Re: Pi

What is the greatest precision Pi has ever been calculated to? How many decimal places?

Just curious.
36. wvhillbilly (profile), 26 Apr 2012 @ 11:04am

### Re: This will simply confuse the RIAA

"...math is not their strong suit."

Fuzzy math is. Very fuzzy math. Like on a latex balloon yet.

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