Allegations of lifting tunes abound in the music industry. Plagiarism is a nagging issue and legal battles on intellectual property rights, royalties and out of the court settlements with big labels are common occurrences. Why this happens so frequently with music, and not with other art forms, might be a good question to ask.
And the answer is not too elusive. All music in this world – in any language – are composed out of seven main notes, and some supporting notes that fall anywhere in-between the seven. In short, the human vocal range has a universal scale. And a tune is nothing but a pre-determined combination of these available notes. The notes are limited, and hence their possible combinations are finite too. Over the ages, as more and more composers come up with more and more tunes, overlaps are certain to happen.
So, can we run out of tunes after every combination is done?
Logically yes, but until now creating a combination depended on the skills of the composer and getting “every possible combination” down on paper was a colossal task – if not impossible. But not anymore.
Fed up with the constant legal bickering within the music fraternity, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin of the U.S. has decided to do just that – develop an algorithm that can compose every single 8-note, 12-beat melody combination. Their aim is to derive every combination, copywrite them, and make them available in the public domain so that any interested musician can simply use any combination without fearing legal repercussions. Sounds utopian, but not entirely impossible!
Riehl, a musician, is also a lawyer by profession specialising on copyrights. Rubin is a software programmer and music enthusiast. They claim the algorithm can generate 300,000 melodies per second. To be copyrighted, the combinations must be presented as published work. So, the combination outputs created by the algorithm is being stored as MIDI files on a hard drive. Going by the current combination of 8-note,12-beat tunes – the hardware is already bursting with 68 billion melodies. And, of course, all the other note and beat combinations are yet to be worked out!
They used an open-source algorithm available on Github. The generated MIDI files are under a Creative Commons Zero license and available both on the Internet Archive and Github. However, their idea is still to gain legal validation in a court.