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Copyrighting melodies to avoid accidental infringement [video] (youtube.com)
130 points by ChrisArchitect on Feb 11, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 109 comments

Now they need to generate a name for each one, and provide a search engine where you put in an audio clip and get back the copyrighted, named item. Plus the ability to play any of those melodies on line, given the name.

Then, each time a new piece of music appears from a major label, they do the lookup and generate a DMCA takedown request.

Names should be easy to choose by diceware. Then you could just have a JS tool to convert strings like A-B-C-G#-A-B-C#-G to and from diceware names. And a HTTP endpoint that synthesizes the music as a gzipped .wav file on demand.

To save the next person looking it up:

"Diceware is a method for creating passphrases, passwords, and other cryptographic variables using ordinary dice as a hardware random number generator. For each word in the passphrase, five rolls of the dice are required. The numbers from 1 to 6 that come up in the rolls are assembled as a five-digit number, e.g. 43146. That number is then used to look up a word in a word list. In the English list 43146 corresponds to munch. By generating several words in sequence, a lengthy passphrase can be constructed."

Or just run `shuf -n 6 /usr/share/dict/words`

I fed four popular song names from 2019 to GPT-2, and it suggested some other song titles in the same genre. A few of them already exist:

B2B, by X Ambassadors (feat. MØ, Alex Clare, Lido, FUSE) .

Saturday Night, by Dot Genesis.

Saturday Night, by Above & Beyond.

Thanks for the Wrecking Ball, by Black Moon.

Best Regards, by Florence + The Machine.

"Fuck You All," by RBE.

Birthday Love, by Notoriously Morbid.

Welcome to the jungle, by Rogue (feat. Mosca).

Nobody and Nobody, by

Stunna (feat. Q-Tip).

Feels Like Summer, by Public Enemy (feat. Public Enemy).

Critical, by Mobb Deep (feat. X-Clan).

Electric, by Josh Wink.

Down, by Aaliyah.

Hip Hop 4 Life, by Quad City DJ's.

Post-9/11, by The Notorious B.I.G.

The Oneness, by 99 Problems (feat. AK-47).

Where Are Ü Now, by Too

All These Things That I've Done, by The 1975.

Triple Poison, by Weezer (feat. Weezer/Beck).

Lionheart, by Usher.

In time, we've come so far

I feel like this approach ought to work well for generating names. Also, lyrics:

Pull me up like you be makin' an '80s comeback

The devil, he stole your soul and he's back like it ain't no fuckin' thing

I'ma turn you on my side with another trend, boom

Heard they wanted to make a video and they could only get me

When they heard I could do and write and everything was under control

Hey, you could say, just listen to this hit I made

Twist the straw, pull the switch and wrap this napkin around it

All I hear is "ice-nine"

It takes a 'dub to make this work, your stage is a den of thieves

Big Ugly gave me a coupon for a high-paying job


I'm not having any luck getting it to write rhyming lyrics yet, but maybe http://wry.me/sonnetron/ would be enough — less evocative, perhaps, but in flawless iambic pentameter with a standard rhyming scheme.

I like my rap abstract and not necessarily rhyming so I’m digging the lyrics a lot. Got anymore examples?

Basically the original version of Pied Piper

Not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that purely algorithmically generated music isn't copyrightable. A copyright can only cover "significantly creative" works. One example is David Slater's "Monkey Selfie", the fact that the photo merely exists doesn't make it copyrightable, it matters how it was created. Had he taken the photo himself, it would be copyrightable. In this specific case, it was a computer that created the music, not a human.

Lists of facts, where there is no creativity or originality in the arrangement of those facts, are not copyrightable. (See, e.g., Feist v. Rural, U.S. 1991 [0][1] (which found that a telephone directory "white pages" that listed names and phone numbers alphabetically was not copyrightable).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications,_Inc.,_v._R....

[1] http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep499/usrep499340/usr...

Regarding David Slater's "Monkey Selfies", as far as I can tell, no court decided the question of whether the photo was copyrightable or whether the copyright belonged to Slater, only that it could not belong to the monkey.

Slater never filed a suit against anyone, so no court ever ruled on it. But he did request it removed from Wikimedia, and lots of experts weighed in. The WikiPedia page has summaries and links to lots of sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_selfie_copyright_disput...

>Lists of facts, where there is no creativity or originality in the arrangement of those facts, are not copyrightable. (See, e.g., Feist v. Rural, U.S. 1991 [0][1] (which found that a telephone directory "white pages" that listed names and phone numbers alphabetically was not copyrightable).

Was there a reason you mentioned this? I don't see the relevance to the surrounding discussion.

A listing of all the possible melodies of a certain length is a list of facts. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

In don’t think anyone mentioned a listing of all possible melodies either, and if you think something they did mention is functionally equivalent, it would help if you made that explicit.

Algorithmically generated music is not such a list, and does not involve publishing such a list, as no one would want that. They typically involve a lot of selection and choices by the author. They’re only algorithm-generated on the sense that the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was “brush-generated”.

My comment was in the context of OP's video. The Youtube description of that video states, "I sat down to talk with Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin about their project to copyright every possible melody." (emphasis added)

The video shows that the authors wrote a program to enumerate every possible melody up to a certain size, possibly narrowed by some criteria. A list like that should be as entitled to copyright protection as a list of the first million prime numbers.

Where an algorithm is used as a tool for creativity, I agree that the resulting work should be copyrightable because an algorithm can be like a brush in the hands of an artist. Here, however, that is not the case because the algorithm used simply lists all melodic possibilities and there is no creative input whatsoever.

>My comment was in the context of OP's video. The Youtube description of that video states, "I sat down to talk with Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin about their project to copyright every possible melody." (emphasis added)

Your comment was replying to this one:


which makes no mention of any of those points, so I’m not sure I understand why you thought that was the right place to put your comment, or why the connection would have been clear. I think that would have been better as a top level reply, with the relevant part quoted, as you’ve done here.

FWIW, since it was my comment he was replying to, I understood the relevance and connection just fine. He was supplying additional reasons as to why it was not copyrightable.

Good to hear! Not having that context, it just looked like the all-too-common "I'm going to show off my knowledge of the topic despite its dubious relevance".

And yes, I know, "you should watch the video/read the article before commenting and then you'd know the context", but usually it's much easier on everyone for the commenter to just take three seconds to indicate what they're addressing, rather than expect everyone else to blow the ten minutes of their life just for a chance to guess at it.

(For that matter, the title would have been better as "Copyrighting every possible melody...".)

In any case, it was especially confusing since it seemingly had nothing to do with your comment, about algorithmically generated music, which generally refers to something else besides publishing an entire domain (rather than the composer-selected best elements).

>Not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that purely algorithmically generated music isn't copyrightable.

As far as I can tell, that's not always true. For now it seems largely context-specific, provided that a human wrote the software generating the output. There's a relatively well-known legal case of someone writing numerological software to generate eschatological texts, where the texts themselves were found to be copyrightable.

The USPTO is currently soliciting comments on whether and under what circumstances AI-generated outputs should be copyrightable [1].

[1]: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-30/pdf/2019-2...

On the other hand, most other photos are copyright by the person who took the photo. However, in those cases, it was a camera that took the photo, not a human. The camera contained a digital computer that executed code (not even written by the photographer in this case!) in order to produce a series of values stored on digital media. All the human did was push a button to tell it to go.

There is also a long history of generative art and as far as I know, the author of the code retains full copyright to the works produced by the program.

I think you were trying to be a bit disingenuous, but that is actually true. Just because a human pressed a button on a camera does not mean the image is copyrightable. Example case [1]

1: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca11/1...

Generally, the human applies creativity in choosing the location, angle, exposure settings, and timing of "pressing the button"

Many game engine studios are claiming the graphic image outputs of their game engines are copyrighted. Most definitely, they are computer generated.

What about CGI in movie scenes? Also algorithmically generated.

The "creative" aspect is what's important. Designing the sprites, backgrounds, art styles, etc of a videogames is creative.

It's harder to argue that brute force generating every single possible sequence of musical notes is creative.

I guess you can make the argument that coding up the solution that does the generating of the music is the creative part here, just as with games where the creative process is creating the environment for example.

I guess music that is made by programming is just as copyrightable as "normal" music. With Ableton/Max Live and similar, programming and music production is getting closer and closer to each other anyways.

What is or isn't "significantly creative" will ultimately be left for a jury to decide. Even though the code might have involved significantly creative elements, that does not automatically imply that the program's output also includes significantly creative elements.

A list of all possible permutations of anything isn't creative, regardless of how it was generated.

"I guess you can make the argument that coding up the solution that does the generating of the music is the creative part here"

They unambiguously have a copyright to whatever software they wrote to create this output. You do not in general get copyright to the output of software, though. (You may in specific. I'm not getting too detailed here. But you definitely do not in general.)

What about syth arpeggiators? Essentially it allows you to push one key on a keyboard and the computer plays notes and chords according to an algorithmic sequence. These are used heavily in pop and EDM music.

It seems pretty clear that creative input is required: https://youtu.be/vnOXHUK9LK0?t=487

But can a person acquire copyright on a melody they wrote that was also previously algorithmically generated?

You can generally only copyright the parts you change. Sort of like how Disney can copyright their version of Rapunzel, but they don’t own the fairy tale.

(Edit: that’s assuming you’re asking about a derivative work, which I may have misunderstood)

I guess my question is more focused on whether a person can copyright something they created that was created by something else previously. So, if a musician creates a melody and then later finds that same melody was previously recorded on an album from the 1990's can they still copyright their melody? Does it matter whether the 1990's recording was machine-generated melodies or human-generated ones?

This is discussed in the video somewhat. Copyright allows parallel invention. E.g. 2 people can copyright the same thing as long as neither one copied the other. In the video, they claim this is usually difficult to prove in court if the first work had at least moderate notoriety before the second was produced.

I think the sticky bit comes when someone composes one of these songs. They might have put creative work into it, but the computer program put the song on the Internet first. So who owns it?

I think where we're going here is that mere melodies are no longer copyrightable. I also think that was the point, because there was some high profile lawsuit not too long ago where some popular musician sued another for copyright infringement on a centuries old melody. And won.

"Monkey Selfie" is not a good analogy for algorithmically generated music. A better analogy would be satellite images, which of course are copyrightable.

I think it's crystal clear under US copyright law that on-nadir satellite images are not copyrightable; the elements of creative expression that normally give copyrightability to a photograph (composition, lighting, framing, choice of angle) are entirely absent. Feist, Hearn, and Bridgeman seem to provide a clear-cut answer in such cases. What jurisprudence are you thinking of?

Here are some sources that say they are copyrightable:




Any GIS tool with satellite images (Google earth/maps, Bing maps, etc...) will show a copyright logo on the screen specific to the satellite images.

From your second link https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewconten..., which is a law review article, not precedent or statute: "Copyright protection is thus unavailable to unenhanced data. ... Predictably, EOSAT does not attempt to copyright unenhanced Landsat data." However, it's from 1990, prior to Feist (1991) and Bridgeman (1999), though not Hearn (1987). Even so, it doesn't attempt to make the argument that you're making, that raw satellite photos themselves are subject to copyright: "The statutory definition of a copyright certainly suggests that...data which has been enhanced through human creativity qualifies for protection." (Emphasis mine.)

Law review articles, like legal briefs, are primarily attempts to advocate a certain point of view by presenting the best available arguments for it, in the hopes of influencing future jurisprudence or legislation. The positions they advocate are thus not reliable guides to reality, although they are more persuasive to the extent that their arguments are based on reality and thus not easily demolished.

The other two https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1027166 and https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1292646 not only aren't jurisprudence, they aren't even law review articles, nor do they reference any jurisprudence or make any legal arguments. Also, they are both from Singapore. Actually they are papers about steganography, not copyright.

Did you... did you just google [satellite image copyright] and paste the first few links you saw without reading them, hoping you could waste a bunch of my time for a minimal amount of effort on your part?

"Copyright protection is thus unavailable to unenhanced data ... Predictably, EOSAT does not attempt to copyright unenhanced Landsat data" - That's a reference to data from a public satellite.

Bridgeman is specifically about imaging artworks. You're taking it way out of context. Here's the summary from wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeman_Art_Library_v._Corel...:

"...exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright in the United States because the copies lack originality."

That has nothing to do with satellite images. If you disagree I would ask you to cite jurisprudence or legislation.

You haven't addressed the fact that google/bing/any other GIS tool specifically put copyrights on their satellite images.

From the wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Earth:

"Every image created from Google Earth using satellite data provided by Google Earth is a copyrighted map. Any derivative from Google Earth is made from copyrighted data which, under United States Copyright Law, may not be used except under the licenses Google provides"

If this is not correct you should edit it accordingly.

I said, "I think it's crystal clear under US copyright law that on-nadir satellite images are not copyrightable." Google's claim to own copyright in the output of Google Maps or Google Earth may or may not be correct, but either way it's irrelevant, because those are not on-nadir satellite photos, and my claim was specifically scoped to on-nadir satellite photos (and US copyright law). I've cited three judicial precedents to support that claim; you have a weak argument about one of those precedents that suggests you don't understand it, and even the 30-year-old law review article you chose to support your position specifically disclaims the claim you're making, in the case it discusses, which is indeed a public satellite.

Google Maps and Google Earth output are not on-nadir satellite photos. They are composite images produced by an elaborate production pipeline drawing on many sets of data and possibly enough human creativity to produce a copyrightable work. That's a question for a court to decide, not Google or Wikipedia. It seems clear that if their results are found to be copyrightable, it will not be due to the satellite photos that some of them draw on.

The single example that you were able to find referencing photography was specifically scoped to artistic works. None of those cases back up the claim that "on-nadir satellite images are not copyrightable".

If it were "crystal clear" you'd be able to find a more specific example, which you can't.

None of the sources you provided attempt to claim that raw, unmodified satellite photos are copyrightable. They all have to do with "enhanced" or "watermarked" photos. There is no question that Google owns the copyright and trademark to their logo, and adding it to an image will allow them to enforce their copyright on its distribution. Additionally, Google has done processing on the photos to remove clouds, add roads, city names, and a lot of other info.

But a claim that a raw, uncreative, unprocessed, mechanically produced photo is subject to copyright would be a major exemption from the requirement that anything copyrightatlbe be significantly creative. Unless you have an actual case involving an unprocessed satellite image, it's pretty safe to assume they are not copyrighted.

> In this specific case, it was a computer that created the music, not a human.

You don’t really get any music made by humans these days, the sound of hitting them against each other just isn’t that popular. So we get music made by guitars, pianos, trumpets ect. But of cause all that music is still “made by humans using those instruments” just like this was made by a human using a computer.

If he just remembered to take a photograph of the photograph and only share that version, he’d have been all set :)

Some people have been claiming copyright on algorithmic outputs. Wolfram is one such prominent example. I don't know if it's ever been challenged, but he does claim all output of Alpha is copyrighted to him.

What if you record a robot playing the notes on a piano?

Better question: what if a robot records itself playing the notes on a piano?

That hard drive is basically just a reduced music version of The Library of Babel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Library_of_Babel

Sort of, but by making it a physical object it's proving that it's not just some intuition-breaking edge case caused by infinite numbers, it's in the realm of normal small human-scale numbers and maybe we need to rethink things when it's trivial to collide by accident.

Here's how you can get it: http://allthemusic.info/

Here's how they did it: https://github.com/allthemusicllc/atm-cli

Neither of these pages explain how the project works and why a musician would want to use one of the melodies.

This isn't a work of utility, at least not for musicians. It is a probe of the legal concepts surrounding copyright law of music. Everyone agrees it is not right to copy another song note for note for the whole song, or to just make "small" changes to it. On the other end, everyone agrees that one can't copy a single note, or a pair of notes.

So considering a court case where party A wins a claim against party B for having the same sequence of four descending notes in roughly similar rhythms, is that really sufficient? These lawyers are essentially creating a thought experiment to help highlight flaws with the existing wording of court rulings concerning music.

> On the other end, everyone agrees that one can't copy a single note, or a pair of notes.

The threshold for copyrightability appears to be zero notes. Mike Batt was sued by the estate of John Cage over his zero-note composition; the claim was that it infringed on Cage's copyright to his composition 4'33", which consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. Batt ultimately paid six figures' worth of damages in an out-of-court settlement.

Silence is copyrightable.

No, it isn't. Culture is copyrightable.

The fallacy in all of these arguments is the inability to distinguish between the defining properties of a specific cultural object, and the cultural field - the set of relationships - it's embedded in.

Batt wasn't sued for a minute of silence, but for using the minute of silence as a cultural signifier. And the Cage estate doesn't own the copyright on silence - it owns the copyright on silence framed within certain applications in certain cultural contexts.

Amateurs and consumers tend to think of cultural artefacts as self-contained objects. So when you sample something you are making a copy of an object - exactly like copying a data structure.

It's just data, isn't it?

No, it isn't. That is 100% not how it works. You're actually sampling a reference to a location inside a global data structure called "culture". The sound is a pointer to that reference, and the reference has a financial value which is related to its cultural notability and influence.

There's more - much more - to it than that, but that's the level at which this issue really operates.

> Culture is copyrightable.

From a purely moral perspective this argument just makes the entire situation even worse. Individuals should not be able to own culture. Culture is collective, and culture ought to have the freedom to build on top of itself.

I have never had anyone explain copyright to me in a way that made internally consistent sense, and I have come to believe that the reason for that is because it doesn't make internally consistent sense. People either give explanations that don't stand up to mechanical scrutiny, or they give explanations that don't stand up to moral scrutiny. Usually both.

Copyright does make sense from the perspective of, "we want to incentivize a behavior, so we have arbitrarily decided to artificially monopolize certain things to incentivize it." When you try to break copyright down into something more inherent or natural, the structure falls apart because (I'm convinced) there's nothing there to examine. It's just an incentive structure, and that's the only level we should be discussing it on. It's absurd to claim that any individual has an inherent, moral property right over culture; their only moral right to culture is to participate within it -- ironically, the very right that copyright restricts!

Hacks like music databases don't get around copyright by exploiting its inner mechanisms. The point isn't to out-argue judges, it's to showcase that copyright isn't an internally consistent, naturally occurring right.

> And the Cage estate doesn't own the copyright on silence - it owns the copyright on silence framed within certain applications in certain cultural contexts.

Which is similarly bonkers, just with more words added. The Cage estate doesn't own anything: we have temporarily granted them an unnatural monopoly over a certain kind of cultural expression in the hopes that it will somehow posthumously encourage John Cage to write more.

As other commenters have pointed out, this is gimmicky, shallow and clickbaity. All that they did was count from 1 to 68 billion.

Any piece of digital data can be converted to a number, and if we apply their argument then you can be "creative" by just counting numbers.

But we all know that's not true. Once the search space becomes that big, you can't actually "enjoy" any of these melodies. Because you can't listen to all of them in your lifetime, the ones that you WILL hear are going to be awful 99.999 percent of the time.

Hence, the "creative" process is navigating this search space, and figuring out which melodies are catchy. Better yet, trying to figure out how or why our brain decides to like or not like a melody.

But is this the entire thrust of their argument? That melodies constitute to smaller component of song to be copyrightable.

Them “copyrighting” every possible melody using a purely numerical method is just a way of showing how absurd some copyrights are. They’re abusing the mechanics of the copyright system to demonstrate its flaws.

Sure. I've glossed over the fact that this is a legal stunt. But you can read my comment from the perspective of a devil's advocate arguing against them in court.

Their argument in front of a court boils down to - "counting from 1 to 68 billion is creative effort worthy of copyright". My counter argument is that its not. And that its obviously so.

I am not saying copyright law is great in it's current state. I am sure the LETTER OF THE LAW is ambiguous and ever changing for the worse (see Disney). And I am sure THE INTERPRETATION OF THE LAW has been arbitrary in a lot of court cases.

BUT, if you believe in THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW - that a person can reap financial benefits for a certain period of time if they have produced something "uniquely creative".

Then you should agree that this legal stunt doesn't contribute much of anything to the legal debate.

The creativity comes from the legal argument they make about the data.

I see it as a way to protest/contest some recent dodgy court decisions. I don't think they expect to actually _own_ all those melodies.

Reminds me of this - The Library of Babel. https://libraryofbabel.info/

Pages and pages of permutations of characters that contains every lyric that's existed, every novel, every poem, every word you've said to your mother in correct order.. (amoungst a whole bunch of gibberish)

All this exists here with a url that you can share to re display to book and page to anyone else.

The video talks about "are two songs necessarily the same melody" for subtle differences. Thanks the complete joke that was the Dark Horse lawsuit, there's a pretty good chance that: the Dark Horse precedent will have to be overturned, or music copyright (in this form) will end.

This is brilliant.

Yes, it's not "creative" so shouldn't be protected by copyright, but still points at a legal problem; we're entering a time in which AI can generate human-level music with as much or as little user input as the user wants, so how can we determine who owns the copyrights if we don't know how much "creativity" was actually involved? (And AI music generation is far easier than AI writing fiction or drawing, though AI is certainly going to come for those too.)

Perhaps there will be only two ways to handle it: 1) Case by case when people file lawsuits or 2) no more copyrightable music? No idea, but we're going to have to figure it out soon...

They mentioned the Marvin Gaye vs Robin Thicke case disparagingly. (I also think it was a terrible outcome.) But their project seems to support the idea that there is no objective measure of how similar two songs are. It follows that we should 1) eliminate music copyright altogether or 2) accept that human jurors will make decisions we disagree with. They might have been going for #1, but that is obviously way too idealistic to gain traction (in the USA at least).

I think that there can be a partially objective measure of song similarity, and that melody is an important component.

Copyright requires a creative act. Mechanically enumerating all combinations isn't creative.

Legally, that's probably correct. And yet, it points out the absurdity of allowing melodies to be copyrighted in the first place. There just aren't that many of them, especially when one limits to the musically plausible set.

Melodies aren't copyrighted. Music publishing is complicated, but in essence song = non-trivial melody + lyrics.

"Non-trivial" doesn't have a formal definition, but it's guaranteed to be more complex than the 12^8 "melodies" generated here.

Actual plagiarism cases get much more complex, because lawyers will argue that specific features of the song, including the arrangement, combination of instruments, and so on, all contribute.

So the entire premise of this action is stupid. Nothing of value or interest has been copyrighted, and there is no chance the contents of that famous hard drive would stand up in a copyright claim against a commercial music release.

IMO this is basically a PR stunt.

Including lyrics in the definition of 'song' probably muddies the waters here, given the loose colloquial usage of the word 'song' appears to include instrumental compositions

The opposing argument would be that there are millions (billions?) of possible melodies, so selecting ones that are particularly pleasing is a significant creative act.

Picking out of millions/billions is way too little input to be a creative act. That would let you get a meaningful copyright on a sequence of two words.

There's probably a ML for that, or will be. Will it's output count as a significant creative act?

Is being pleasing a requirement of copyrighted material?

That is kind of the point. If the collection of melodies can’t be copyrighted then no one can be sued for infringing on them.

I believe that's part of what they're trying to point out. That melodies this short should be copyrightable by anyone.

Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin are heroes!

I can’t wait until the day comes when we as a species no longer feel the need to claim intellectual property. This shit is so stupid.

It’s only stupid until someone else is making millions based on something they copied from you. While overzealous copyright protection is definitely bad, there are people out there who created something beautiful but didn’t catch a big audience and then only got paid later down the line because they managed to challenge the big guys in court.

But naturally in those cases there was actual and obvious theft, not just similar melodies.

> someone else is making millions based on something they copied from you

But why is this a problem, though? Why does it matter if someone else makes money on something they copied? Isn't that how capitalism is supposed to work? The idea that nothing would be created unless there is financial incentive is silly - people create things all the time with the expectation (and hope!) that they will be copied and that others can enrich themselves on the basis of that.

And I think the point OP is making is that it would be great as a species to have less interest in who makes the most money, and more interest in other things, like maybe the art itself.

>Why does it matter if someone else makes money on something they copied?

When the copy competes with the original. The original required investment of effort and resources, the copy is near-zero effort.

This is the case for certain original content video channels, where their content is literally copied and monetized, competing for the same viral links and diverting traffic from the original.

There is no right to be free from competition.

But unfair competition is often legislated against.

Without copyright, competition would not be for the ability to create -it would be for the ability to distribute. The end result would be much the same as we have now - an oligopoly of distribution channels, only they'd pay the artists less, if anything.

There is no right to be free from competition.

The problem you mention is essentially that people with more money and business acumen (here: social media companies) will leverage said money/business acumen to make even more money (here: promoting videos and reaping virality-driven ad revenue). They will amplify their initial business advantage to outcompete those skilled in the subject-matter work. Under capitalism, it's as often considered a feature as it is a bug; which one it is in any particular case depends on how popular the people getting outcompeted are.

Hindsight is 20/20, but to me, copyright law looks a bit like an ass-backwards, cart-before-horse approach. It's the legal equivalent of "solving" SQL injection by adding a client-side validation that prevents users from entering ' and the word "DROP" in their form fields. All it does is inviting exploitation.

Instead of making ridiculous kludges that end up benefiting those they were meant to curtail, perhaps we need to figure out a proper solution.

Creating art beyond a hobby level is hard if you aren't being paid to do it, because skill and mastery in any medium take time, and so does the practice that produces results.

Somewhat separate from that, the idea of somebody making life-changing sacrifices to pursue art in the gaps between their soul-crushing job only to have a BigCorp claim that art as their own and profit off it without the actual creator getting anything for it is what I'd call fundamentally unjust and broken.

In sum, if good artists can't make a living off their art then we will enjoy less good art as a result. A lot of great artists don't care about money, but they need it to live and keep making art, and it's naive to suggest they should be "above" that.

While this can certainly be true, copyright itself doesn't necessarily follow-

Problem: Artists need to make money!

Solution: We'll make unauthorized use of certain material illegal for a fixed period.

It's certainly one approach, and it does mesh with the intuitive sense of "hey, it's fucked up to take somebody else's work and call it your own"- but it's not the only, or, in my view, the best approach.

What is, in your view, the best approach? Please enlighten us.

edit: I guess I should also clarify that I believe artists are entitled to total control over something they've created until they say otherwise. If they want to license it as creative commons and go live in a wine cask, great. If they want to milk it for all (the money) it's worth, also great, at least for as long as we're living under the capitalist ethic that celebrates such exploitation of intellectual property and provides no safety net for those who are unwilling or unable to extract value from what they have available to them.

I have no idea whether or not it's the best approach, but it's certainly the best approach I've seen so far. Unless you have a better alternative to propose?

It seems to me that our economy of attention, where consumption literally requires copying the product in our own brain, needs a better conceptual foundation.

Like, a tax designed to be distributed to creators according to market principles in a manner that supports a vibrant and robust media society.

And while it is easy to imagine versions of that post-scarcity media market that would not work well, I think we really need to consider the possibility that it's just a matter of the right design.

And perhaps also recognizing that we already are living on the edge of having a post-scarcity market in digital media, and that our real media market is one of those that do not work well. We don't have a best possible market, we have a random one we walked into via path dependence.

> The idea that nothing would be created unless there is financial incentive is silly

As is the implication that financial incentive doesn't work.

People might create things all the time - creating things that are actually worth sharing takes much more, though, because you'll first need to master the domain you work in. (Nobody is ripping off your "hello world" :)

That time investment is time you take away from other things. If that is also time that translates into money that actually enables you to live, the copier stands to benefit from your work, while you struggle for your livelihood.

That's why that is a problem. If there is no IP at all, you've limited the set of creators to people who are essentially independently wealthy and simultaneously want to actually invest time to master that domain. That's a small set.

Sure, once you fix the basic livelihood problem, copying might be good. Capitalism doesn't let you fix the livelihood problem. (Because it does attach value to your time)

>That's why that is a problem. If there is no IP at all, you've limited the set of creators to people who are essentially independently wealthy and simultaneously want to actually invest time to master that domain. That's a small set.

This is a really fruitless way to take the discussion in and it misses the point entirely. I could argue that the way things are now, you've limited the set of artists to people who happen to get chosen by "the algorithm" for whatever reason, which is a similarly small set. We could then go and compare sizes of these small sets just to try and rationalize things. But that doesn't really advance the discussion does it? Groups who want to do bigger things still need to do fundraising to fix the "livelihood problem" and then they need to spend big on marketing in order to recoup the costs. What that means is the same as always: applying for grants, going to investors, running a crowdfunding campaign, etc. It really has nothing to do with copying at that point.

Do you think those investors want to see a return on that investment?

Where do you think that return on investment will come from if the product is free?

For better or worse this is literally what record labels and publishers do - invest in new talent, handle marketing and promotion, spread the investment around and hope to win big on a handful of hits which pay for the misses.

Do you really think tech VCs invented this model?

Publisher/investors/labels/agents/promoters have been doing it since at least the 19th century.

No offense but your whole post is a straw man. I never said anything about anything being free. Although if you want to post videos for free on youtube, that seems to be a popular choice for a lot of people these days.

Anyway this is why I didn't want to discuss things in that direction, because it always leads to people attacking the argument with totally nonsensical conclusions. Of course the concept of patronage wasn't invented by tech VCs or kickstarter or whatever you're thinking of. Can we try to think about this constructively?


You asked " Why does it matter if someone else makes money on something they copied? Isn't that how capitalism is supposed to work?"

And I answered that question. It matters, because in the context of capitalism, no, you can't abandon the idea of making money for the original creator, because there's investment. Very few people are interested in investments that don't stand a good chance of recouping the costs.

Investors aren't going to give you money if creation is expensive, and copying is zero cost. (See also: Open source business models)

People aren't going to invest time (on the order of many years) in learning skills if there isn't a chance to recoup that cost.

Sorry if the answer to your question doesn't take the discussion where you want it to be. That doesn't make it a less valid answer. If you want a different discussion, maybe you're asking the wrong question?

I never said that. I am not the person you were originally responding to. But I will respond to this assertion:

>Investors aren't going to give you money if creation is expensive, and copying is zero cost.

Yes, they will. The trick is to make each copy generate you money in some other way. Additionally sometimes it isn't even directly about the money -- if the good becomes public and simultaneously brings up the value of all of their other investments, then the amount of copying really doesn't matter.

Because in a capitalist world without this kind of safeguard creators would all be at the mercy of money rich megacorps who can copy any work and out-maneuver them in distribution and advertising.

All while making platforms richer.

That is going to happen regardless of the safeguard, because we have the safeguard and creators are already outmaneuvered. If the safeguard is removed then at least megacorps won't have an eternal lock on creative works.

Huh? Tons of creators make good money off copyright without having any connection to megacorps.

And the simple fix to 'eternal lock' is cutting copyright duration back toward 14+14.

If copyright law didn't favor megacorps more than the rest of us, they would have lobbied copyright law out of existence years ago.

Aren't they already? Isn't this literally the problem that motivated this music generation experiment?

Sure, I agree, but isn't that seen as a good thing in the capitalist perspective? Wouldn't you want to have that accumulation of wealth by the few, who can then wield that power, as a proponent of capitalism?

The problem is capitalism and the greed/ability to hoard wealth. The problem isn't that creators are having their work copied; art is going to be copied, that's what art is in the first place - inspiration, modification, creation from something else that already exists.

There ought not to be such capitalism that creates the 'need' for the copyright protections.

>Sure, I agree, but isn't that seen as a good thing in the capitalist perspective? Wouldn't you want to have that accumulation of wealth by the few, who can then wield that power, as a proponent of capitalism?

No. Capitalism works when people are equals, which is why we need a strong Democracy and brakes on unchecked money-earning optimisation. We must maximise people's freedom to create.

Personally the form of copyright I would support would be something like

1. Sharing without direct monetary gain is allowed. The reason I don't see a problem with this is because we already have a vibrant piracy culture and yet people want to pay creators. As long as you're not getting paid for warez it doesn't seem like it would be a problem in itself. Ad-supported torrent index sites would also be OK because they're not profiting off the warez themselves, they're just providing a search index. This is basically updating libraries to the 21st century.

2. As a creator you own an exclusive right to your creations and you cannot give that right away. So if you write a song as a "work for hire", you can still sample the song you wrote. You can change it and release it on your own. If you are a programmer, you cannot have your code taken away. If you write e.g. a UI component and then decide you want to make your own site, you can still use that UI component freely. Of course you can give a permanent non-exclusive license to your employer to do whatever they want with your code/song/dance/performance/etc.

This will maximise the freedom to create, minimise exploitation of artists and knowledge workers, and maximise the freedom to share culture, while still affording creators enough protection to make sure others aren't unduly profiting from their creations.

I'm not sure about the length of copyright though. The easy thing would be to say it should be 10 years, with exponentially increasing renewal fees, but I'm not sure that's the best idea. Another option is compulsory licensing, where someone who profits from your work has to pay you a fee proportional to how much of his creation uses how much of your creation. That idea has some gnarly enforcement problems however, and I suspect big companies will just tread over little guys who can't litigate anyway.

Personally, I'm currently for short copyright lengths - and industry-dependent, based on independent estimate of true ROI and technology turnover, and balanced against the public good. So e.g. in chemistry/drug manufacturing this could be a decade, in software industry no more than two-three years. Definitely not "almost a century after the death of the author".

I would be a bit conscious about the "sharing without direct monetary gain" part, I'd like it to explicitly exclude "sharing for free in exchange for viewing ads (and accepting tracking)". I think "free with ads" business models are fundamentally anticompetitive and poisonous to our society; you can find them at the center of a lot of problems currently afflicting the western world. I would like to see these business models gone.

You're entirely right, except that dismantling capitalism can't start with dismantling copyright, it's not a big enough piece to fundamentally change our society in that way.

"Information wants to be free!"

"Please stop giving my personal information to everyone!"

Funny, but personal information is not published at most cases. Non-published information is out of discussion. So you miss the point.

Privacy and copyright are completely separate issues.

The obvious dividing line is, the copyright holder wants their data (creative work) to be spread as widely as possible (to paying customers), whereas someone with a secret potentially wants no one in the world to receive that data.

I don't think anyone is claiming that composers should be forced to publish their songs against their will.

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