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Concatenative Sound Synthesis and Intellectual Property: An Analysis of the Legal Issues Surrounding the Synthesis of Novel Sounds from Copyright-Protected Work 

Sturm, Bob L., Journal of New Music Research, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 23-33 (2006)

One of the most interesting aspects of concatenative sound synthesis (CSS) is its ability to transform recorded sound into novel expressive forms that might not resemble the original sources. This method of micromontage presents exciting avenues of exploration for a composer. In order to facilitate research and results there can be no restrictions on the sound material used, and no looming legal jeopardy to those who are interested in exploring it. There are 2 separate issues to address: first, the unauthorized incorporation of copyright-protected material into a corpus database; and second, the existence of such material in the synthesis performed by the algorithm.

If sampling were performed solely by amateur musicians or computer hobbyists intending only to perform their sampled recordings privately in their own homes, there would be no controversy. IP is big business, and the extent of its abuse throughout the world markets have created an environment in which rights holders are fighting hard to control the use of their property. In the eyes of copyright law however, the bottom-line is adequately analyzing the compatibility of a disputed use with the fundamental aims of copyright: the encouragement of learning and enriching of culture. If a use detracts from this tenet, it harms the very incentives for creating new work.

The application of these principles in the practice of law in the USA to music and sound recording copyrights has by and large been consistent. With only a few odd cases and inconsistencies, these precedents lend themselves to testing the legal waters of CSS and its output. Through the doctrines of de minimis and fair use, copyright-protected work my be used without fear of punishment in researching and developing CSS. The creation of rich databases from copyright-protected work is defensible since their compilation serves a completely different function than the originals. And when the output transforms this corpus material to such an extent that the test of the lay listener test is passed, the new work transcends being derivative and is entirely protectable as new expression.

Above all else, as a fertile field of research, the most important requirement for advancing the creative application of CSS is a diverse database of sound from which to quarry samples. For now, the world’s library of recorded sound is indeed freely available for enriching these sound repositories.

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