So, you’ll notice that the charming video we linked to on Monday in honor of Pi Day is “no longer available due to a copyright claim by Lars Erickson.”
It turns out Lars Erickson wrote a song called the “Pi Symphony” back in 1992. (In fact, our educational blog, Talking Science, linked to his work in celebration of Pi Day.) And he believes that Michael John Blake’s version copies his.
Here is Erickson’s explanation of his version, uploaded last year:
It’s true — the two songs do sound similar, because both use the idea of mapping the numbers of pi onto a musical scale to create a song. Many other songwriters have also used this idea to create music (see here, here, and even a computer-generated version here).
It’s not yet clear what the specifics of Erickson’s copyright are or how the issue will play out. Michael John Blake has filed a counterclaim with YouTube to reinstate the video. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about the issue of copyright in music, check out our SciFri interview on the legality of musical sampling. It’s a thorny topic, and the line between inspiration and theft is rarely clear.
And, at least for now, Michael John Blake’s video still survives here:
For more on the mathemusical controversy, check out these links:
- Michael John Blake’s update on YouTube
- an opinion piece on TechDirt
- comments on an NPR Morning Edition story that covered Blake’s version
- Lars Erickson’s YouTube page, where he is fielding comments