Digital Music News' Paul Resnikoff on new advances in music composition and the challanges they pose to traditional copyright interpretation

As I was reading my daily dose of Digital Music News I stumbled upon this provocative adage to copyright and one challenge that we face moving ahead thanks to the advances of a California professor's new composition software.  This is but one point of the idiosyncrasy of composing a law in real time to keep up with our technological advances AND protect intellectual property owners...  This is an uphill climb and is all but impossible to keep up with despite the CRB and copyright office's best attempts.  Now without further ado ... Paul Resnikoff... +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What 'Sounds Like' Even More Disruption Ahead...

Despite the complicated debates, copyright infringement is essentially simple concept. A piece of intellectual property is owned by one party, and its unauthorized use by a third party is subject to penalty. That is, in theory - 'casual' piracy happens billions of times monthly, and plenty of debates arise over ownership (orphan works, splits, other disputes), or intent (Satriani v. Coldplay, for example).

That just scratches the surface, and volumes of literature are dedicated to the subject. Moreover, the body of law is being interpreted and created in real time. But outside of those mainline discussions, plenty of smart workarounds exist for those unable or disinterested in direct, expensive licensing processes. And it's not infringement, as long as proper statutory publishing rates are paid.

Jump into a karaoke bar, and sing-a-longs frequently feature generic video scenes, lyrics and underlying (ie, publishing) tracks - not the recordings themselves. Or, hop onto the iTunes Store, and 'sounds like' versions of songs employ similar statutory workarounds. In fact, when Kid Rock withheld his content from iTunes, entrepreneurial studios quickly created sounds-like versions to capture sales from confused fans.

But what happens when a derivative work is created, one that resembles the original but is different? In pop music, copycat artists and songs happen all of the time, and they are perfectly legal. But as technology becomes more powerful, unique identifiers employed by successful composers can more easily be isolated and replicated.

Just recently, ArsTechnica author Jacqui Cheng profiled a computer-based composition technology called 'EMI,' or 'Emmy,' a software package created by University of California Santa Cruz professor David Cope. Emily essentially identifies and replicates a number of signatures unique to a particular composer, then creates a derivative work - sounds like Mozart, Beethoven, Cream, whatever. The package has since been succeeded by a more original computer composer called 'Emily Howell,' which attempts to move beyond derivative to truly self-generated works.

That seriously challenges the concept that 'real' music can only be created by real brains, not computers. But machine-based dissection and creation technology may also become part of the disruptive digital music fabric, and further upend traditional copyright concepts in the process.