New algorithm creates every possible melody to curb copyright lawsuits

It’s become a regular occurence in the music industry: An artist a song. The song becomes a hit. Fans of another artist notice similarities to one of their songs. That other artist’s label or legal team also notices these similarities. The two artists either come to an agreement or go to court over royalties based on who owns the copyright.

There’s only so many possible combinations of musical notes, so this is bound to happen more, right? 

Now, a musician and a programmer have to try to deal with this very issue and stop these types of copyright lawsuits.

Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin, two fellow musicians and programmers, developed an algorithm to come up with every possible music combination. The goal: to copyright every single combo in order to give it to the public so musicians and artists can use melodies without worrying about copyright issues down the line.

The algorithm created by the two programmer-musicians can put together every single 8-note, 12-beat melody combo. According to Riehl, the algorithm can generate 300,000 melodies per second. In order for these melodies to be copyrighted, they must be created as a work. So, the algorithm outputs MIDI files of the melodies to a hard drive.

At a TED Talk earlier this year, Riehl, who also works as a copyright attorney, explained the thought process behind doing this.

“Under copyright law, numbers are fact, and under copyright law, facts either have thin copyright, almost no copyright, or no copyright at all,” said Riehl in his TED Talk. “So maybe if these numbers have existed since the beginning of time and we’re just plucking them out, maybe melodies are just math, which is just facts, which is not copyrightable.”

The open-source algorithm as well as the generated melodies are available on and on the . The MIDIs are all released under a license, basically meaning no rights reserved for the works.

Regardless of whether it curbs lawsuits or not, the idea is certainly a unique one. Riehl and Rubin’s project has yet to be tested in a court of law to see if their copyright strategy holds up. 

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