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Dispute over mathematical music dismissed

New Scientist reports on a lawsuit that was dismissed by a US district court this week, a decision apparently “intentionally released” on pi day. The case, “a claim of copyright infringement brought by one mathematical musician against another”, centred around a piece of music and YouTube video which went viral last pi day. Michael Blake, this says, created an “original musical composition, “What pi sounds like”, translating the constant’s first few dozen digits into musical notes”. The article explains:

That afternoon, jazz musician Lars Erickson from Omaha, Nebraska, cried foul. Erickson thought Blake’s work sounded suspiciously similar to his own 1992 piece “Pi Symphony,” also based on the digits of pi, which is registered with the US copyright office. He contacted YouTube, and Blake’s video vanished.

They had “both assigned each of the digits 0 to 9 to a musical note and then treated the digits of pi as a musical score”. Erickson calls the two melodies “identical”, but the court disagreed. The article reports the ruling:

the two pieces differed enough in areas like tempo, musical phrasing, and harmonies to be considered distinct. Plus, US law doesn’t protect every aspect of the piece, like underlying facts and ideas.

What’s more, Simon, who intentionally released his decision on Pi Day, noted that Erickson’s copyright registration only protects musical flourishes – and his are markedly different from Blake’s.

The legal opinion reads:

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.

Read the full story at New Scientist: US judge rules that you can’t copyright pi.

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