‘Conducting Analysis of Litigated Music Works through Sonic Pi’ – by Xinhang Sui (Cecelia)

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My name is Cecelia. As a second-year law student, I appreciate this chance of Collaborative Research Internship provided by the College of Arts and Law to collaborate with Dr Chen Zhu and two music students, focusing on the music copyright project, with the combination of music, programming and legal issues. Basically, this programme attempts to study music copyright through a programmatic approach using Sonic Pi to analyse litigated music works. With a one-year experience of using Matlab and a vital interest in music, this project allows me to combine my passion for coding with legal research, offering me a valuable chance to gain insights into Intellectual Property law in a multi-dimensional way.

Sonic Pi is a programming language for creating  music. It was initially developed by Dr Sam Aaron at the University of Cambridge- it is aimed to be ‘a new model of creative education’ that ‘could revolutionise the teaching of both music and computing’. (https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/creating-music-in-classrooms-using-code-teaches-risk-taking-in-next-generation).

We usually need to code two songs per week, code for both melody and harmony lines. The image shows part of a song called ‘Creep’ coded in Sonic Pi.

In the same line, the first square brackets show the note names while the second one associated duration values. For instance, ‘q’ represents a  quarter note, also known as a crotchet, which lasts for 1 beat.

I have also done case studies throughout the tutorials and workshops prepared by Dr Chen. For example, in the 2018 case of Carey et al v Sheeran et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-00214, the defendant’s song is ‘The Rest Of Our Life’ from 2015, whereas the claimant’s song is ‘When I Found You’ from 2017. The performers and writers of ‘The Rest Of Our Life’ were charged with copyright infringement due to the perceived similarities in harmony, lyrical themes, rhythm etc. As we can see on the music scores and more clearly, through coding the two music by Sonic Pi, the starting chords are respectively like this:

Image Source: https://www.lostinmusic.org/Cases/Detail/27-carey-and-golden-vs-sheeran-hill-mcgraw-and-o#tab_evidence

When I Found You: D G9 G D

The Rest of Our Life: D G G D

The difference between the G9 and the G chord here (which includes the note A) is to give the chord more flavour and colour. The two chords are similar but do not exactly match. It’s common in music to use descending notes from a major scale. These standard music building blocks is unlikely to get protection by copyright law. In the end, this case reached a settlement between the two parties.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that, with the help of Dr Chen and two fellow students  Jessica Duckworth and Keren Simpkins, we also finished coding for Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue with Sonic Pi, which is available here: https://gitlab.com/81char/sonic_canon/

I completely enjoyed this project and a big thank you to Dr Chen who helped and guided me a lot. This internship has provided me insights into the area I am interested in and the chance to collaborate with legal professionals and peers. It was so informative and inspiring.

Xinhang Sui, LLB Law