Erickson v. Blake

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 03-14-2012
  • Case #: 3:11–CV–01129–SI
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Simon
  • Full Text Opinion

If there is primarily only one way to express an idea, the expression cannot be copyrighted under the merger doctrine.

Opinion (Simon): Lars Erickson (“Erickson”) created a symphony called “Pi Symphony” using the numeral digits of pi as the tune in 1992. He continues to promote the work through a website devoted to the symphony. Michael John Blake (“Blake”), a Portland, OR musician, similarly assigned the numerals in pi to notes for a music video, titled “What Pi Sounds Like”. The way the notes were assigned, the tempo, and arrangement were unique in Blake’s video. Erickson sued Blake for a violation of his copyright of “Pi Symphony,” as both songs were derived from pi, and Blake filed a motion to dismiss. The ownership of the copyright was not disputed, leaving only in question the originality of the work. Since Blake had access to the work as it has been made available online, the court only had to consider the similarity between the works. The idea of translating pi into music is not copyrightable, since pi is both an idea and a fact. If there is primarily only one way to express an idea, then it cannot be copyrighted under the merger doctrine. The court rejected the idea that having another song based off of pi is an infringement on “Pi Symphony’s” copyright. The similarities that did exist were scattered throughout the piece, and were not substantially similar. The court GRANTED Blake’s motion to dismiss.

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