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Should we be able to copyright melodies?
#3042780 05/09/20 06:36 AM
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So I know the current law is - yes, you can copyright melodies, but the question is should we be able to do that? Is it fair to copyright a musical phrase/motif? We can't copyright short phrases in a languages; for example I can't copyright the title of this thread. But melodies are treated differently (if they are recorded or written down).

You've probably heard about Damien Riehl, who mathematically created every melody possible within 2 measures/1 octave - and then saved it to disk, effectively copyrighting all of it. He's hoping another lawyer might use it in a copyright defense case to help break current copyright law. (Click here to see the TED Talk)

Then there's this US$2 app (Piano Motif) that can generate melodies/motifs - and it's pretty decent at doing it. (audio demos on Soundcloud)

So how long do you think before this all starts to break copyright law in the courts? Is there still a larger over-riding reason to be able to copyright melodies or should it be like languages where we are not allowed to copyright short phrase/motifs?

Anyway food for thought during the lockdown/quarantine. whistle

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3042784 05/09/20 07:08 AM
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It's an interesting issue. In Western music, we have a rather limited number of tones in our scales. As such, there can only be so many possible permutations before there will inevitably be some similarities, if not outright repeats. I'm a big lover of Balkan music and some Middle Eastern music, but even that has limits. There are only so many ornaments, scales, and time signature variations that you can use. Unless we all want to listen to microtonal music (nothing wrong with that but I don't think it's a lot of peoples' cup of tea), there are going to be similarities at some point. Now, a blatant rip-off of a song is something else entirely.

Interesting to note how much a given melody can seem to change based on the backing and instrumentation. Reharming is a great example of that.

Food for thought indeed.


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Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3042870 05/09/20 07:22 PM
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That's a tricky question.

I think the reason for the copyright law is to allow the copyright holder money for his/her creation. More importantly it's to keep others from making money from his/her creation without permission or compensation.

So IMHO if the new piece of music does not cut into the income of the original piece, no damages should be allowed.

Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" did not take a penny out of the pockets of the songwriters or performers of "He's So Fine" so IMHO the lawsuit should have been thrown out. Same for "Stairway To Heaven" and that Robin Thicke/Marvin Gaye thing.

But that is simply my opinion. My opinion and a buck will buy a cup of coffee if you go to an el-cheapo diner.

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Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3042877 05/09/20 08:08 PM
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Just to stir the pot, what about melodies that are in the public domain?

Can anybody just use Ring Around the Rosies?
Or does somebody claim copyright on it?

Just for one of bajilion melodies that were passed down by our parents parents parents and are still sung today by children skipping rope.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
KuruPrionz #3042885 05/09/20 09:01 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Just to stir the pot, what about melodies that are in the public domain?

Can anybody just use Ring Around the Rosies?
Or does somebody claim copyright on it?

Just for one of bajilion melodies that were passed down by our parents parents parents and are still sung today by children skipping rope.


Pretty much that. Public domain is public domain. What can be tricky is arrangements of public domain songs. Those can be copyrighted.

Christmas music is a great example. A lot of the old carols are public domain, but some arrangements are not. An example is Carol of the Bells. The song itself is public domain, but the lyrics were added later and that version is currently copyrighted.


Yamaha: Motif XF8/YS200/CVP-305/CLP-130/YPG-235/PSR-295/PSS-470
Korg: Krome 61
Kurzweil: PC3
Roland: JV-1000
Casio: CT-370
Kimball Valencia/Broadway/Conn 465/WCOC Reed Organ/Allen ADC-220/Accordions

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