Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day 3.14

This is a Post Script, added on 3.16 after the original 3.14 post. There is a story here worth the telling: a tale of who owns the creative commons, and legal battles erupting via YouTube.

At the bottom of this post is an embedded video called, "What Pi Sounds Like." Don't try to scroll down and click on it now, for reasons that will become obvious as the story unfolds. Just know that I liked the concept of the video: a song based on converting the digits of the mathematical constant, Pi, 3.14.... to musical notes, E.CF.... The video is creative, even if the music sounds like a children's song. The creator and performer, Mr John Blake, was even invited to appear on NPR and talk about his work. I am not sure when the interview was recorded but I heard the interview about midnight.

But some time after I posted the link, and probably before I heard the interview about it, a composer named Lars Erickson blocked access to the video, which caused my link here to break. The link below is still cold. Some of you may have tried to click it already. Mr Erickson blocked the video, claiming it was a copyright infringement. Lars' 1992 Pi Symphony was created based on the idea of converting the notes of a musical scale into numbers and then playing the digits of Pi. The second video up from the bottom is a video in which Mr Erickson explains the concept for his symphony.

The question is: does Mr Erickson own the concept of converting the digits of Pi to musical notes? Even if he does have some legitimate claim to the idea, what is the most effective strategy for maximizing his position, financially and socially, when other players have similar creative ideas?

First of all, I seriously doubt that Mr Erickson is the first to think of playing Pi on the piano. He may be entitled to royalties for future productions of the Pi Symphony, but there is no way anyone could possibly confuse Mr Blake's effort with the Pi Symphony. And if Mr Erickson does not own the concept of playing Pi on musical instruments, then he has no reason to block Mr Blake's effort. In fact, he may have been smarter from a financial and social perspective to promote and encourage Mr Blake's video.

Within 24 hours, the controversy was apparently resolved when Mr Blake's video was reposted. I have left the original, broken video (1), added both Mr Erickson's video (2) and Mr Blake's re-posted video (3) below.

3. John Blake's video is back online.

2. Lars Erickson explains his 1992 symphony in this 2006 video.

1. The video I posted on 3.14 was subsequently blocked by Lars Erickson for copyright infringement.

For discussion:

  • Does Mr Erickson have a legitimate claim to the concept of making music based on Pi? 
  • Did Lars over-react to Mr Blake's video? 
  • Is John's effort a rip-off, or is it unique, or something in-between? 
  • Does Mr Blake owe Mr Erickson any royalties? 
  • Has Lars helped or harmed his financial ond social standing by attempting to block his rival? 
  • Would it have been better financially or socially for Mr Erickson to promote Mr Blake's effort? 
  • If so, how, and if not, why not? 
  • What would you do if you were Lars Erickson? 

Comments welcome.