Two Guys Used an Algorithm to Record and Release Every Possible Melody to Stop Musician Lawsuits

Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin hope their project will protect artists from copyright infringement lawsuits

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
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By Bonnie Stiernberg / February 26, 2020 12:21 pm

Copyright law can be a tricky thing, and as a new Vice piece points out, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin — both musicians and programmers — have used an algorithm to write every possible MIDI melody into existence and released them all to the public in an attempt to prevent musicians from being sued for infringement.

The pair developed an algorithm that recorded every potential 8-note, 12-beat melody combination, going through every possible combination of notes and working at a rate of 300,000 melodies per second. (In the MIDI format, notes are numbers.) “Under copyright law, numbers are facts, and under copyright law, facts either have thin copyright, almost no copyright, or no copyright at all,” Riehl explained. “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.”

Riehl and Rubin released all of the melodies using a Creative Commons Zero license, meaning they have “no rights reserved.” Of course, whether or not the move will hold up in a court of law remains to be seen, and it certainly doesn’t mean you now have the right to rip off an existing copyrighted song.

But Riehl and Rubin hope that their melodies will help protect artists from unnecessary litigation. “For just the melody alone, maybe those cases go away,” Riehl said. “Maybe they’re dismissed.”

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