Copyright infringement suit decides who gets piece of Pi

Pi is a fact and belongs to everyone, even musicians, according to a federal ruling in a recent copyright infringement lawsuit. The lawsuit was between two composers who individually set the mathematical constant pi to music.

Pi is an irrational, infinite number approximated by 3.14159265. Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference and shows up as a constant in mathematical equations.

The fascination with pi is not reserved for mathematicians. San Francisco Exploratorium honored the number by declaring Pi Day March 14, which in numerals mirrors the number’s first three digits.

The musician’s copyright infringement suit was settled on historic Pi Day, when a federal judge tossed the case out. According to the composer who brought the suit, his 1992 “Pi Symphony” was infringed upon when a second composer used the same idea to put together a musical selection on the Internet video-sharing site YouTube.

The music in the “Pi Symphony” was created by matching notes with corresponding pi digits. The notes were then played in the order in which they appear in the mathematical constant.

The complaint charged the video creator with stealing his “pi.” The “Pi Symphony” composer also invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act with a request to force the second composer to remove his video from YouTube.

The federal judge felt that everyone deserved a piece of “pi” because the pattern of digits in the irrational number is a fact which cannot be copyrighted.

Although the “Pi Symphony” was copyrighted as a whole, the judge said the composer could not stop other musicians from doing what he did to transform the number to music. The ruling did acknowledge that the “Pi Symphony” composer could have charged infringement if another musician had stolen other parts of the work like scale or harmony.

The judge stated that the pi pattern, even translated into music, is not something that can be protected by copyright law. The court decided that the second piece of music posted on YouTube video was not in violation because “protectable” music rights had no similarities to the “Pi Symphony” knockoff.

Source: bloomberg.com, “Abbott, Andy Warhol, Glaxo, Clif Bar: Intellectual Property,” Victoria Slind-Flor, Mar. 20, 2012