A study looks into the role of algorithms in music copyright trials

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A New Zealand musicologist says while algorithms won’t replace juries in cases of alleged music plagiarism, they could be useful tools for consideration in court and help musicians avoid releasing songs with unintended similarities in the first place.

An international study published on Tuesday explored algorithm’s role in the trial of music plagiarism.

Researchers asked 51 people to judge 40 examples of alleged music plagiarism and compared them with algorithmic assessments and court decisions, according to the study conducted by an international team led by musicologist Patrick Savage, a senior research fellow in the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology.

Study participants’ assessments matched the court decisions in as much as 83 percent of the cases versus 75 percent for the algorithms, though it is important to note that some court decisions were highly criticized by musicians, musicologists, lawyers and judges alike, said the study published in the journal Transactions of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval.

The study discussed if automated algorithms could bring a new objectivity to music copyright infringement decisions, limiting the number, scale and expense of court cases.

“It’s the largest study so far of how the best algorithms compare with humans in judging when music crosses the line into plagiarism,” Savage said.

One limitation of the study is the underlying assumption that the court cases were decided correctly, he said, adding that a permanent limitation on using algorithms to decide copyright cases is that non-musical factors can play a role.

“For example, regardless of how similar two songs are, there won’t be a breach of copyright if the allegedly plagiarizing composer can show that it would have been impossible for them to have heard the earlier song,” Savage said.

Ultimately, trial by algorithm won’t replace trial by jury, but algorithms’ objective assessments may be a factor to take into consideration, he added.

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