from the world's big
An algorithm produced every possible melody. Now its creators want to destroy songwriter copyrights.
A computer coder and a lawyer decide they have a right to speak for all the songwriters that ever lived, those who are alive today, and all those yet to be born.
- A computer coder calculated all of the possible 8-measure, 12-beat melodies possible from Western music's 12 notes.
- The coder and a lawyer decided to claim ownership of every song melody ever.
- The two of them submitted all of these songs into the public domain so no one could ever be found in court to be plagiarizing a song.
Why on Earth would they do this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg0NTk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzg5Nzc4N30.FE-P-Ikqxj_BGpUTVIjT0lKelQEYOi8tl94NckuRSbQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="da00b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0d07bb21eae451c2feaa8a6ea35831dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Uptown Funk" producer Jeff Bhasker and Bruno Mars with their Grammy award
Image source: Robyn Beck/Getty<p>The motivation for Rubin and Riehl's project was putatively the duo's sympathy for famous — often wealthy — music stars who are sued for compensation by the original composer of melodies upon which their hits are based. One might suspect the duo are covertly engaging in a theft of their own, trying to steal a bit of fame fame from defendants. They even have a <a href="https://youtu.be/sJtm0MoOgiU" target="_blank">TEDTalk</a>.</p><p>Successful musicians go through this all the time. Sometimes the claims of plagiarism are valid, sometimes ridiculous, but which is which is for courts to decide, and similarities between songs may be subtle or obvious.</p><p>The problem goes way back. <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-lists/songs-on-trial-12-landmark-music-copyright-cases-166396/george-harrison-vs-the-chiffons-1976-64089/" target="_blank">George Harrison</a> turned the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" into "My Sweet Lord" while his former bandmate John Lennon <a href="https://wpdh.com/the-beatles-come-together-was-stolen-from-a-chuck-berry-song/" target="_blank">pinched</a> much of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" for The Beatles' "Come Together." Berry's music was also, um, "borrowed from" by the Beach Boys: Their breakthrough hit "Surfin' USA" was <a href="https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/93432/when-chuck-berry-became-beach-boy" target="_blank">nearly identical</a> to his "Sweet Little Sixteen." "You Can't Touch This" by M.C Hammer <a href="https://www.whosampled.com/sample/40/MC-Hammer-U-Can%27t-Touch-This-Rick-James-Super-Freak/" target="_blank">was built over a phrase from</a> Rick James" "Super Freak."</p><p>More recently, Sam Smith <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/tom-petty-on-sam-smith-settlement-no-hard-feelings-these-things-happen-35541/" target="_blank">was sued</a> for the similarity of "Stay With Me" to "I Won't Back Down" written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. And though "Uptown Funk" can make people at a funeral get up and dance, there's no question that there are <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/michellefabio/2017/12/30/bruno-mars-and-mark-ronsons-uptown-funk-faces-yet-another-copyright-infringement-suit/#4cb7350270c0" target="_blank">little bits of various other songs in there</a>, and lawsuits have caused changes to the record's credits and royalty fees in recognition of the track's sources.</p><p>The list goes <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-lists/songs-on-trial-12-landmark-music-copyright-cases-166396/george-harrison-vs-the-chiffons-1976-64089/" target="_blank">on and on</a>. These are all examples of one well-known party suing another, and that's definitely a frequent scenario. However, copyrights also protect unknown songwriters from plagiarism in those rare cases when a songwriter can actually afford to hire counsel to press for restitution. It's therefore pretty weak protection to start with.</p><p><em>Full disclosure: I'm an unknown <a href="http://robbybermanmusic.com" target="_blank">songwriter</a>.</em></p>
Why this happens so much<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg0NjA2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODA1MzI0NX0.ZnviYz7inGZwgraZWOus9b0aw1g0FNwvJl8wFwSf0x8/img.jpg?width=980" id="d00b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a8c9ce135e4e1bd0caa0af53a63f4cb4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Eamonn McCabe/Popperfoto/Getty<p>Creativity — in whatever area — involves a re-synthesis of an artist's influences into something new. All of the songs a songwriter has heard are the ingredients from which new songs are made. Songwriters are usually avid, if not rabid, music fans. The re-synthesis is typically unconscious, and in court defendants are often found guilty of "unconscious plagiarism."</p><p>Clearly a fine balance must be struck in assessing plagiarism. A songwriter must be free to mash together and rework everything they've heard, just so long as they're not seen to be simply reusing someone else's composition. <a href="https://youtu.be/aU_zMvaX05Q" target="_blank">Accidents will happen</a>, as will outright theft.</p><p>If it wasn't already crushingly hard for a financially struggling artist to derive any compensation for their creations, maybe what Rubin and Riehl have done wouldn't be so outrageous and offensive. However, the two have decided — on their own — to deprive every single songwriter with a U.S. copyright of the one meager tool they have to address being plagiarized by others, just because they decided to do so.</p><p>How serious a threat their project poses is unclear. Not only are Rubin and Riehl implicitly claiming ownership for all song melodies yet to be written — which is likely to be contested —they're also claiming it for every song that<em> exists</em> — which definitely will come as an unwelcome surprise to the actual composers. (And more attention for Rubin and Riehl.)</p>