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Sik_the_hedgehog

Copyright of FM instruments

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OK, let's put it simple. The question here is whether FM instruments are copyrightable or not. By this I don't mean play one and record the output (which obviously falls under copyright), but rather the settings used to create those FM instruments.

I think they are (since after all they're data (42 numbers in this case, more exactly) and thereby they should be able to fall under copyright), but everybody else I talk to insists they aren't, and I can't seem to find any sources on the topic. So, does anybody really know what's the deal with this?

For now I'll assume they can be copyrighted unless proven otherwise.

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What does your lawyer tell you?

Copyright generally doesn't come into effect until the work is "fixed" in media, or in other words, written or recorded or broadcast or saved.

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What does your lawyer tell you?

Nothing because this question doesn't arise for any specific project, it's just that I'm tired of arguing this thing so I want a reliable source that settles the whole deal. For my own projects I won't use any FM instruments unless I made them or I've gotten explicit permission to use them (be it either for copyright or for the sake of respect).

My nitpick is that some people I know rip FM instruments from old games and they insist it's legal. I know that in practice chances are nobody will complain (especially considering how generic they sound most of the time), but I really doubt it's legal.

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[quote name='frob' timestamp='1325615120' post='4899336']What does your lawyer tell you?

Nothing because this question doesn't arise for any specific project, it's just that I'm tired of arguing this thing so I want a reliable source that settles the whole deal. For my own projects I won't use any FM instruments unless I made them or I've gotten explicit permission to use them (be it either for copyright or for the sake of respect).

My nitpick is that some people I know rip FM instruments from old games and they insist it's legal. I know that in practice chances are nobody will complain (especially considering how generic they sound most of the time), but I really doubt it's legal.
[/quote]

You described it differently this time, "rip FM instruments from old games", last time it was " I don't mean play one and record the output (which obviously falls under copyright), but rather the settings used to create those FM instruments."

That kind of nuance is very important.


Only a judge gets the final say on if it is legal or not, and that is after a trial that should explore every aspect of the usage. There will be careful study and discussion about that type of nuance: Was it pulled from a saved file (fixed in media) or were they generated (not fixed) based on something else?

In one instance it may be legal, in another it may not due to different circumstances. It is a risky practice I would avoid.

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You described it differently this time, "rip FM instruments from old games", last time it was " I don't mean play one and record the output (which obviously falls under copyright), but rather the settings used to create those FM instruments."

It's still what they're doing though: not copying the output but rather the settings that make up the instruments. By this I mean things like the envelope values, modulation parameters, detune, etc. (the values passed to the hardware that are used to generate the instrument). Because they are the very definition of the instrument (pretty much all its implementation details) is why I think they are copyrighted.

There will be careful study and discussion about that type of nuance: Was it pulled from a saved file (fixed in media) or were they generated (not fixed) based on something else?

This is probably another issue because in some cases they are ripped straight of the ROM, but often they're ripped by using an emulator and copying the relevant sound hardware status when the instrument is loaded (sniffing). In either case it's still copying the data off a game, though.

I suppose such a ruling would try to base itself on whether it's a derivative work from the game or not, though (in which case yes, it's clear copyright infringement). What I would like to know though is if FM instruments per-se are copyrighted. This will be important to know if later somebody wants to distribute his/her own instruments (I'm involved in a homebrew site and I plan to distribute free FM instruments for use in homebrew since there is a severe lack of good ones, and I want people to stop ripping instruments from games).

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I don't see how synthesizer settings could be considered copyrightable: such parameters are only a formal and more complex counterpart of the tunings of traditional instruments. You are simply programming your synth to sound exactly like the one you found in a certain game, and the only way to do it is with an identical program. Do you worry because your flute has the same notes as the one in a record you like? Do you think you are "copying" if you borrow someone else's characteristic electric guitar effects setup? Maybe you could be accused of hacking the game you are "ripping", but it is a different issue.
Unlike actual instruments, representations of instrument tuning, e.g. a floppy disk containing a hoard of DX7 sysex dumps, can be meanngfully pirated; but still they might be too trivial and constrained to be protected by copyright.

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