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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

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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.


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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.


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Casio: CT-370
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Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3047462 06/04/20 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Groove On
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

It seems to me that the length of the "melody' should be a large factor. These 2 measure melodies. Were they 4 beats per measure - I assume. Should someone be able to copyright only 8 pitches without regard for a melodic rhythm. That would be a major (or minor scale). And I think anything qualifying as a scale would continue without change of direction for those 8 notes. But copyrighting just 8 notes - weak. And then there's the hamonic bed/cushion (is that a term?) that the melody sits in.

Anyway it seems to me the bar has been lowered.

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Notes_Norton #3047511 06/05/20 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
........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.....

But if a famous artist were to steal my composition, one that I never would have made money on because I am a nobody, that would still be theft, and I should be compensated. In such a case the artist should have credited me to help my reputation as a composer, and financially via royalties.

Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
........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.......Notes

For "My Sweet Lord" the thing that made me think the lawsuit verdict was correct is that before I ever heard "He's So Fine" and before the lawsuit, I played a concert band version of "My Sweet Lord" in middle school - probably around 1972. All the instrumental parts got imprinted in my brain, without thinking about the lyrics at all. A few years later the lawsuit hit the news (1976?), and then I heard "He's So Fine" for the very first time. Based on having an instrumental version of "My Sweet Lord" imprinted in me, and that I was not thinking about the lyrics, I had an immediate reaction that the lawsuit verdict was absolutely correct.

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3047514 06/05/20 01:09 AM
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So are you thinking to do away with all intellectual properties, because it is just a where you cross the line exercise from your initial question?

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3047520 06/05/20 02:06 AM
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It just seems to be in the air, this idea that copyrights are somehow wrong. There are certain post-modern critical theorists and such that even make a philosophical point out of it, that originality as associated with a particular person is an illusion. A lot of college kids pick this up after some class in Literary Theory or Deconstruction or Semiotics, etc.

And we've all run into statements along the lines of "after the song is written, it belongs to everybody" and so on.

What I don't like is people with no skin in the game standing about and pronouncing what the rules of the game should or shouldn't be.

We can complain that copyright laws are not particularly logical as written - fine. Or even that they lead to absurd results sometimes - fine. But what ever happened to simply trying to fix things, improve things, evolve things as opposed to "let's just throw the whole thing out" tack?

In big broad terms - artists need a way to protect their creations and be allowed to participate in the marketplace as owners of unique goods for sale. How unique? There's no tablet from the mountain laying out the divine guidance on that. We'll just have to muddle through.

And not let sideline opinionizers ruin the game for the serious participants. Who do need money like every one of the critics of copyright in whatever profession they participate in to make a living and earn their due.

nat

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3054895 07/19/20 02:33 PM
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Being an amateur, copyright, publishing, distribution is a bit out of my expertise, but I do have a question along these lines. I have just completed a song for a 'pandemic arts presentation.' Along with that we made a video that shows different pictures related to this viral situation. The pictures were selected from commercial sites and a fee was paid to use them. I know the song melody can be copyrighted, and I have considered doing that through Legal Zoom. Can the song/video be copyright as one, or should they be separate? Or can I even copyright the video as it uses purchased commercial pictures?

My inclination is to just put it all together, apply and see what happens. Any thoughts as to how I should proceed in the simplest fashion?

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3054897 07/19/20 02:52 PM
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You didn't say what venues you will use.

Venues have specific rules about ' combining material' then copyrighting it on their site.
For example, Apple Music is strict on that.

folks do 'try as you go " on YT. But thats up to them.

But if the venue blocks your content, all that work flies out the window.

You will need to confirm any 'distribution rights ' or requirements stated on the commercial sites.

Since you piad a fee, there should have been a type of agreement.

Last edited by GregC; 07/19/20 02:56 PM.
Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
balinas #3054900 07/19/20 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by balinas
Being an amateur, copyright, publishing, distribution is a bit out of my expertise, but I do have a question along these lines. I have just completed a song for a 'pandemic arts presentation.' Along with that we made a video that shows different pictures related to this viral situation. The pictures were selected from commercial sites and a fee was paid to use them. I know the song melody can be copyrighted, and I have considered doing that through Legal Zoom. Can the song/video be copyright as one, or should they be separate? Or can I even copyright the video as it uses purchased commercial pictures?

My inclination is to just put it all together, apply and see what happens. Any thoughts as to how I should proceed in the simplest fashion?


Use the Library of Congress website and copyright the song only.

You cannot copyright licensed images, the fact that they are licensed implies that they have already been copyrighted, likely by the photographer or the organiztion that originally posted the images. .
If you successfully copyright the images a second time, you are opening the door to litigation well beyond a mere "cease and desist" or simple deletion. You are breaking the law, Federal law.

Take the high road, you have a license for the images, submit it at the time and place you post. It probably has a time limit on it, after that time it will no longer be legal to display it.


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Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3054920 07/19/20 07:11 PM
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Thanks for the replies. I thought that since the images were already copyright, I couldn’t do it again no matter how artistically I fade them in and out. So just the song will be copyrighted. And I will look at the library of Congress site before I do anything else. I really don’t need any more experience with the legal profession. Been there, done that from both a professional and private point of view!!

Re: Should we be able to copyright melodies?
Groove On #3054922 07/19/20 07:20 PM
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I use Distrokid for my original songs.

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