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Translating the Sound of Music: Forensic Musicology and Visual Evidence in Music Copyright Infringement Cases

  • Michael Mopas (a1) and Amelia Curran (a2)
Abstract
Abstract

In music copyright infringement cases, forensic musicologists are often called to testify as to whether or not two songs are ‘substantially similar.’ While it is standard practice to rely on experts to dissect the works in question, this is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the 1950s, it was not the scientific analysis of the pieces, but the impressions they left on the ‘untrained ears’ of everyday listeners that was used to determine copyright infringement. This paper presents an overview of American music copyright infringement cases to document this shift in how the question of substantial similarity has been approached. We argue that the courts’ inability to objectify what listeners hear created the need for experts who could translate music into legal evidence that could be visually witnessed. This practice of judging plagiarism according to how songs look on paper may account for why the courts have viewed musical sampling as copyright violations.

Résumé

Les musicologues sont souvent appelés à donner un témoignage d’expert dans les affaires de plagiat de musique, où on leur demande si, à leur avis, deux chansons différentes sont « substantiellement similaires ». Bien que le recours à des experts pour analyser des œuvres ne soit pas nouveau, il reste que le phénomène est relativement récent. En effet, jusque dans les années 1950, l’on déterminait s’il y avait eu violation ou non de droit d’auteur par l’impression générale que produisait un morceau sur les auditeurs profanes plutôt que par analyse scientifique. Cet article présente un survol des affaires de plagiat musical aux États-Unis pour retracer le virage de la méthode d’évaluation de la similarité substantielle. L’auteur avance que l’incapacité des tribunaux de décrire objectivement l’expérience auditive des auditeurs s’est soldée par un recours à des experts capables de traduire la musique en preuve juridique visuelle. La pratique de juger le plagiat de chansons par leur apparence visuelle expliquerait pourquoi l’échantillonnage musical serait considéré, par les tribunaux, comme une violation de droit d’auteur.

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Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
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