It's definitely a little weird how player pianos (the kind you'd find in the corner of a saloon in a cowboy movie) are the cause of so much of modern copyright law being the way it is.

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@nickwedig Clicked on the Expand Thread button here settling in for a nice long interesting explainer only to find you just casually tossed that out into the middle of the room and took your leave of it like some kinda riddling trickster sprite

@ifixcoinops I assumed everyone was already aware of this fact, and I was just making a casual observation about something obvious.

@ifixcoinops The key fact here is that the player piano was basically the first really important and prominent way you could record music. Before that you could distribute sheet music, but that still required a skilled musician to play. With player pianos, you could encode a song on a scroll of paper and then reproduce that anywhere that had a compatible piano, no musician needed.

@ifixcoinops That causes problems for the musicians of the time. Is a player piano roll treated as a copyrightable piece of information like sheet music, or is it treated like the spindle of a music box (not copyrighted, just a piece of the machinery)?

In 1908, the Supreme Court decides a case that says piano rolls are not copies of the music but part of the piano's machinery.

@ifixcoinops This ruling is so unpopular that Congress completely overhauls American copyright law in response, releasing the 1909 Copyright Act.

This has a lot of effects on how stuff works, and still underlies current laws.

One effect is that it puts in a mandatory licensing clause: anyone can release a recording of your music without your permission, just by following a simple procedure.

This is why cover songs exist. That's one big effect of all this.

@nickwedig Oof yeah I can see how that ruling would've really messed up, like, computer programming, sewing machine patterns etc

@ifixcoinops The other big effect is computer software being copyrightable. In the 1970s, no one knew if computer code could be copyrighted, but in the 1980s that became an issue. The courts looked back at the player piano situation: a player piano roll isn't that different than punch cards for a computer, a set of instructions for a machine to follow. And if a player piano roll falls under the 1909 copyright law, so does computer code.

So all software licensing also comes out of player pianos.

@nickwedig Cheers for the explainer, and aye, I agree with your original assessment


@nickwedig @ifixcoinops which kind of makes sense. A piano player can make a little difference on how the final music will sound. So does compiler with optimisation.

@nickwedig @ifixcoinops infringement? No! I'm performing a cover of Microsoft Word.

@nickwedig @ifixcoinops Does the creation of said thing utilize non-trivial faculties in the creator? Yes? Then, of course protections should apply. It's wild to think that there was a time when some guru wrote beautiful code and the world pretended it could do the same by using the code.

Isn't this where AI algorithms are now? I guarantee that the authors, several having protections, are not even being consulted about the use of their brain child. Ugh.

@nickwedig @ifixcoinops Related to why using a Player Piano as a key set piece in Westworld S1 was both adorable and a deep, deep audiovisual metaphor relevant to show themes.

The fact that they spent millions of dollars of HBO's money to write/build modern player piano rolls and that some of those rolls were massive covers was the copyright weirdness icing on the Player Piano cake in that first season.

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