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Music Copyright Infringement Resource

“Absolutely wonderful stuff…a unique and irreplaceable service to copyright students and teachers. Bravo.”

Robert A. Gorman
Kenneth Gemmill Professor of Law, Emeritus, U. Penn. Law School

“A great contribution to copyright scholarship and teaching.”

Paul Goldstein
Stella W. and Ira S. Lillick Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
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This resource provides information about music copyright infringement cases from the mid-nineteenth century​ forward in the U.S. and, to an increasing extent, in foreign jurisdictions.


¶ On July 11, 2018 the Ninth Circuit declined the petition of Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for a rehearing before the entire Court, of their appeal to overturn the District Court’s judgment upholding a jury verdict finding them liable for copyright infringement in the “Blurred Lines” dispute. Thicke, et al. did not pursue this appeal further, realizing the extravagancy of Supreme Court review of this ill-obtained outcome.  This dispute has generated opprobrium both for its potential chilling effect on creators and performers of popular music, and for its evidence of abuse of the jury system by litigants and their contingency-fee attorneys in shakedowns of successful popular musicians. Documentation for this case: Pharrell Wiliams v. Bridgeport Music.

¶ On January 24th a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced the Music Modernization Act, which addresses a longstanding claim by songwriters that they have been shortchanged by the application of the existing mechanical licensing scheme for musical works in the era of digital distribution. In what some see as a last-ditch effort to wring the greatest possible payout from deep-pocketed new music distributors, Wixen Music Publishing recently sued Spotify for $1.6 billion based on alleged infringements that occurred prior to the date on which the Music Modernization Act will likely take effect. (Wixen’s purpose and utility is elusive: it doesn’t “publish” music; it appears to be simply a paralegal “administrator” of songwriters’ copyrights.) Lawyer/musician Niall Fordyce, a contributor to this site, provides another take on this lawsuit in this piece he wrote in connection with a Bloomberg Law article on the pending legislation.

¶ Patrick E. Savage, Associate Professor at Keio University in Tokyo, specializes in comparative study of the world’s music. He recently completed his PhD dissertation at Tokyo University of the Arts, in which he discusses how theories of biological evolution may be applied to understanding the evolution of musical works. In Chapter 4 he discusses how quantitative measurement of the evolution of melodies over time may inform and predict determinations of infringement in copyright disputes involving musical works: PDF. Here is a link to his recent “Quantitative Evaluation of Music Copyright Infringement,” to be published in the Proceedings of the 8th International Workshop, Folk Music Analysis (2018): PDF. Dénés Pinter, a musicologist in Hungary, has investigated similar issues of whether, and how, comparative analysis of various musical parameters of disputed works may inform decisions on infringement. He has published his work in this area on this website.

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