In a case of judicial harmonic convergence, a federal judge has picked a day to make mathematics geeks sing out as he figured out whether one composer had taken an unfair slice of another’s pi (tune) and ruled the claim just didn’t add up.It has just passed. But for those who wish to truly appreciate this post, let’s start by taking judicial notice that March 14 matters to a nerdy slice of the population who fixate on one of the key numbers in math, the constant π (pi). For those who went into law because their calculation skills were wanting, pi, of course, is an indefinite constant, the ratio of the circumference of any circle divided by its diameter or more commonly as 3.14159…. In 2009, the House passed a bill making 3-14 an unofficial holiday in celebration of pi.
A sour note got plucked on this holiday a year ago when an unhappy composed filed a copyright infringement suit in federal court in Nebraska. Lars Erickson, a musician and Cornhusker, asserted that Michael Blake, an Oregonian and musician, had infringed his copyright on his Pi Symphony. Erickson sought damages and a court orger against Blake’s composition, What Pi Sounds Like. Both musicians, it turns out, were attuned to composing, based on the digits of pi, translating those into music.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon, made this discord come full and perfect circle, releasing his opinion dismissing the suit on, wait for it: 3-14-2012. Although Erickson argued the two compositions were identical, Simon disagreed. He found them dissimilar in tempo, musical phrasing and in harmonies, considering each distinct. He further underscored that — as in what is known as the Idea-Expression Dichotomy — underlying facts and ideas may not be protected under U.S. Copyright Law:
“Pi is a non-copyrightable fact, and the transcription of pi to music is a non-copyrightable idea. The resulting pattern of notes is an expression that merges with the non-copyrightable idea of putting pi to music.”