United States Constitution
“Plagiarism” is usually a taboo topic within the scholastic world as “original” work is highly lauded, while any “similar” work is shunned. However, with such a controversial topic, is plagiarism really such a bad concept? Logically, the scholastic world associates plagiarism with lying and disrespect, since most cases usually involve an author claiming another author’s work in order to wrongly gain some unearned form of reward. As the University of Oxford defines it, “plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgment. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional” (Oxford 1-6).However, the overarching concept of plagiarism merely only follows the same rubric that garners how the universe works. Using mathematical reasoning, the chance of an original work completely, unintentionally, and without influence, plagiarizing another published work is logically possible, although statistically low, similar to the chances of quantum tunneling or the “effect in which particles have a finite probability of crossing an energy barrier…even though the particle's energy is less than the energy barrier” (The American Heritage Science Dictionary [Quantum Tunneling]). For example, disregarding individualized styles of notation, both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz claimed to have developed calculus independently of one another. Yet, this statistical probability is not society’s problem with plagiarism. The concept of one receiving appraisal without properly going through the work that may warrant such appraisal is “unbalanced” and is the actual reason why society disapproves of such acts/imbalances, homogenous with the natural scientific “Laws of Conservation” which garner the universe. This has caused the United States music industry to go into a “conservation” state during the 18th century with the first “Intellectual Property” (IP) laws engraved within the United States Constitution, although the first counter-plagiarism laws were created many years prior with origins in Great Britain. Furthermore, during the 21st century and the rise of computer algorithms, multiple versions of plagiarism software have been incorporated into the music industry. However, logically, yet again furthering the analogous scientific similarity between the concept of plagiarism and the naturality of the universe, if music is created based on a limited spectrum of notes, would not this limit warrant a limited number of permutations? With limited permutations, it would only be reasonable to assume that there are only a limited number of potential “original” songs, disregarding the factor of having different lyrics. Therefore, should artists even be worried about plagiarism? Should plagiarism’s consequences even stifle creativity? Furthermore, although Oxford’s official definition may state the concept of plagiarism, the parameters of plagiarism, e.g., extent of similar lyrics, beats, or notes of a song, always change to fit their context, as there is only a mathematical likelihood of whether plagiarism occurred, rather than a definitive answer, which would only be possible if the author of the work in question admitted to the act. Based on this mathematical reasoning, logic, and natural scientific similarities, the question becomes: is the impact of plagiarism on the music industry through debatably hindering creativity, enacting copyright laws, and requiring settlements justified, or is plagiarism inevitable, regardless?
As a species, humans have always sought innovation and creativity, both of which are valued in the music industry. However, every now and then, whether intentionally, unintentionally, legally sampled, or illegally stolen, an artist commits the act of plagiarism, resulting in both a positive or negative outcry within listening groups and a new spark in the debate of the gray area of “accepted, legal plagiarism” e.g., remixed songs. Sometimes an artist’s plagiarism had a positive net result such as in the case of Vivaldi when “he often turned to material borrowed both from his own works and from those of other composers” (Cross 12-14). Vivaldi committed a total act of plagiarism as he knowingly incorporated the works of other composers, without their consent, into his works, but, without appropriate rules and databases garnering the parameters and proof of plagiarism, Vivaldi is still valued, in contemporary society, as a great artist. On the other hand, in the Blurred Lines Lawsuit (2015) that resulted in “ordering the defendants [Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I] to pay $7.4m [to the Marvin Gaye estate]” (Lynskey 8), plagiarism both tainted the accused defendants’ reputations and resulted in a public division on the topic. When disputes such as these are settled in court, the court usually concludes plagiarism through an overall look at the evidence and how it is used, rather than a note-for-note comparison. In addition to the backlash against the resulting large payout to amend the ruled plagiarism, new debates have emerged on the accuracy of plagiarism laws as “any honest artist knows that pure originality is a myth. If you could copyright rhythms and chord sequences, songwriting would be almost impossible by now” (Lynskey 18-19). In the further areas of this research paper, we will explore the depths of the accuracy of this statement and how many possible “original” works there are left to be discovered. Contrary to both the cases of “beneficial” plagiarism and disapproved plagiarism, sometimes the lines of plagiarism are “blurred” when both the overall tonnage and individual notes contrast in determining if plagiarism occurred. In the Led Zeppelin Lawsuit (2014) that “contends that the Brit-rockers lifted a portion of a 1968 instrumental by Spirit, called Taurus, for the opening chords of their 1971 FM radio classic Stairway To Heaven” (Farber 12-14), the writers of Led Zeppelin were exonerated of plagiarism, but not without tainting their image and causing multiple debates that polluted the music industry on the true definition of proof for plagiarism since Stairway to Heaven had the same overall key without many exact notes that matched Taurus. Many artists also became scared in accidentally plagiarizing a work. Since “chord progressions cannot be copywritten” (Brook 4:13-4:16), there is not enough evidence to show that plagiarism occurred without the accused blatantly stating that they, in fact, did plagiarize. Similar to the reasoning behind why neither Isaac Newton or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz are accused of plagiarizing their predecessors’ (Pythagoras, Socrates, etc.) when developing calculus, the logic of claiming an original work is plagiarized because the work in question merely has the same overall “lamenting” tone/theme, or a commonly used foundation, is analogous to illogically claiming a certain book is plagiarized just because another book has the same color for its hardcover. Common knowledge is not grounds for proving plagiarism, hence why the different methods of proving plagiarism also consider how works are published as “original.” These different plagiarism cases developed multiple judicial, software, and investigative methods to take into question the extent of similarity, overall intent, historically common parameters (e.g. Lament Bass Structure), and the legality that attempts to collate these factors when determining plagiarism.
Because of how difficult it is to exactly define if plagiarism occurred, several methods and counter-plagiarism tools are used to determine its likelihood and resulting consequences. Intellectual property (copyright, patents, trademarks) laws originated before the United States even separated from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and was “passed in 1623 [Statute of Monopolies] …[and] abolished the government-sponsored dominance by guilds of particular industries and vested the creator of intellectual property with the rights thereto” (LawShelf). Furthermore, rights on intellectual property are even included within the United States Constitution stating, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (U.S. Const. Art. I, Sec. 8). Of course, over time these laws have been revised and loopholes were found, e.g., ideas cannot be copyrighted. One such topic of interest that polluted the music industry is the issue of whether remixes and parodies like how “a challenge to the ideas embodied in the Gone With the Wind novel may be presented in the form of another literary work titled The Wind Done Gone which uses the characters in the original novel but portrays them differently” (Tan 103-104).Essentially, although these copyright rules and laws have been revised to account for loopholes and the extent to which they insure pieces of work, the foundation of individuality and ownership has remained the same. However, with the overall change in the way the music industry views legal and ethical changes, these topics have also developed controversial debates on if copyright endangers musical creativity through “censorship.” As stated by Harvard Business Review’s Anthony Accardo, “censorship is suppression of speech deemed harmful or objectionable to the general public by a government body” (Accardo 34-35). Because although copyright laws are meant to protect the individual and his/her work from being pirated or copied, many debates have emerged questioning whether copyright laws take it far enough to be considered a type of “censorship,” as artists are now scared to create songs without first being double checked. On a legal side of determining if a song has been plagiarized, “the critical step in this analysis is the question of copying a ‘substantial part’, as evaluated by a qualitative rather than a quantitative test and the overall impression given by the musical work rather than a note-for-note comparison” (Kaila 20). Although the case-proceedings take into consideration the whole context and overall construct/perception of a song, this has not deterred others from developing more concrete methods like fast-responding technological methods of comparing melodies and contract law being used to protect ideas before they are protected under intellectual property rights/laws. One such method is a “plagiarism detection system…to examine if there exist such melodies in music databases as being similar to any melodies of a composer’s interest” (Park et al. 684). This is the standard type of a plagiarism software system that is enacted within the music industry all over the world. But, recently, further developments within these research methods have made movements into the spotlight, such as at the 2017 4th International Conference on Systems and Informatics illustrating a new system of detecting music that is different than “most works about the music plagiarism detection problem [that] are based on well-known string-matching techniques. These algorithms focused on the perception of similarity, in spatial terms  or feature-based terms ” (Prisco et al. 520). The proposed method at the conference is “based on two computational intelligent modules: (1) an unsupervised machine learning algorithm to retrieve similar melodies, and (2) a fuzzy deep analyzer to discover plagiarisms” (Prisco et al. 521). Essentially, as early as 2017, these newer methods build on top of the old “similar melodies” method, while also incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to create a polymorphic algorithm that learns over time. As a whole, these plagiarism methods have countered both copying and piracy, which allows funding to be generated with individual artists’ songs through mediums like Spotify. Furthermore, the amount of research poured into finding new ways to objectively determine plagiarism is another source of income for the music industry.
Multiple sources have stated that artists’ fears behind plagiarism laws may stunt musical creativity, however, the question now becomes: are rules regarding plagiarism really justified or is the limit on the number of possible songs affecting musical creativity, thus leading to inevitable plagiarism? In order to answer this question, certain parameters must first be defined. “Common time” is the most used time signature in musical history (hence the “common” name) and is interpreted as four quarter (1/4th) notes per measure, standardized as one note played on each beat. According to a 2012 statistical study done on the average, top 100, hit-song lengths on iTunes, the average song length “is much greater than 180 seconds… 226.93333 seconds [Mean]” (Anisko and Anderson, StatCrunch). This is equivalent to around 3 minutes and 47 seconds and another article explaining the steps of creating a pop song also states that “it may not come as a surprise that the average running time of a song is 3 minutes and 46 seconds” (Davids, Music & Audio Envato Tuts+). Additionally, “most hit songs hover around an ‘optimal figure of 119.80 BPM [Beats-Per-Minute]’” (Buskirk, evolver.fm). Merging the information together, with a common time signature of 4/4 (one-quarter note on each beat), average song length of “3 minutes and 47 seconds,” and average beats-per-minute of “119.8 BPM,” we can calculate an average of 452.884 notes per song. With this information, to makes things easier, instead of accounting for every different version of every single note within the audible frequency spectrum, we can, for now, use the 7 different whole notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) contained within one octave of the 10-octave audible music spectrum. To calculate the average number of possible permutations that can occur between these notes to create an average 452.884 note song, we would use the permutation formula P(n,r)=n!/(n-r)! with r = 7, and n = 452.844. Our results estimate 3.74 quintillion (3.73643619 * 1018) possible original songs. For perspective purposes, a press release in 2013 stated that “iTunes Store is the world’s most popular music store with a catalog of over 26 million songs” (iTunes 2013 Press Release). Taking into consideration the iTunes’ founding date of January 9th, 2001 to the February 6th, 2013 date of this press release, the math culminates in about 2-million (2,166,667) songs added per year. If we then used this rate as a model to see how many years it would take until the estimated amount of original songs is reached (3.74 quintillion), it would take around 1.7 trillion years, longer than both the Earth’s estimated age of 4.5 billion years and definitely longer than the estimate 200,000 years of humans populating the earth. Granted, iTunes is not the only medium for which music is copyrighted/published. However, if we were to assume that all 3.74 quintillion possible original songs with one-octave, whole-note, permutations were to be published and copyrighted in the next 354 years (similar to the 354 years estimation since the first copyright laws [The Licensing Act] 1662-2018), around 11 quadrillion songs would have to published per year for the next 354 years. For comparison purposes, The Telegraph, in an article referencing an energy-comparison website “uSwitch.com” within a comparison table, stated that to “download a song…1 GB [is] 200 songs” (The Telegraph). With this ratio, we can compute that the estimated 11 quadrillion songs are about 53 billion terabytes (52,774,522,542,372.8814 GB) worth of information. In 2013, in an attempt to answer how much data is on the internet, BBC Click presenter Gareth Mitchell stated, “consider the sum total of data held by all the big online storage and service companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. Estimates are … at least 1,200 petabytes between them… 1.2 million terabytes” (Mitchell, BBC Focus Magazine). As we can conclude, 53 billion terabytes are much bigger than the “1.2 million terabytes” shared by the four big companies in 2013. Granted, these companies have become much bigger and technology has become more compact. However, these calculations were based on generous, highly impractical bases to begin with, e.g., 11 quadrillion songs produced in a year, 1 out of 10 audible musical octaves used within the calculation, only “common” notes and lengths were used (no half-steps & superimposed notes), etc. Because of the large difference in ratios presented within these calculations, basic math, amount of very possible factors that were not considered in the generously highly impractical foundation, and current rates of both technological advances (e.g., quantum computing) and intellectual property counter-plagiarism methods (e.g., copyright), it is reasonable to state that, in contemporary society, plagiarism laws and parameters are very much justified and will be justified for many years to come.
Plagiarism has changed the music industry through societal debates on creativity, intellectual property laws, legal settlements, economic influx through initiative, and technological advances in determining plagiarism within music. As a whole, intellectual property laws have existed even before the creation of the United States and has federal authority within the United States Constitution. This embedded concept has laid the unchanging foundation of copyright laws and how the music industry tries to balance its economics in its ever-changing industry. Copyright laws allow for violators to be charged a lump sum of money, while also publicly tainting the reputation of the accused. However, in order to determine who the violators are, developing newer methods were needed to more objectively identify plagiarism. The first of which is through legal cases that artists enact against those accused of plagiarism. As stated earlier, if the accused is found to have committed plagiarism, then a lump sum of money is requested, returning an economic influx back into the music industry. Another method is, most recently, computational methods that compare both lyrical strings and melodies to provide an estimate of how much a song could have been plagiarized. However, because this method accounts for only specificities, more complex methods have been developed to combine previous methods and attempt to compare songs’ perceived overall tonnages/semantics to determine plagiarism. Within society, however, there are two main sides to copyright. The first side is in support of copyright in order to prevent piracy and morally-opposing, illegal “sampling.” The other side is against copyright because of the possibility that it stifles creativity when artists fear plagiarism’s consequences. With respect to mathematical reasoning, the number of possible, original, songs greatly outweigh the number of estimated songs published per year. Therefore, plagiarism/intellectual property laws are justified when controlling the escape of revenue and the created tunnels of revenue through individual songs/artists within the music industry.
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