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February 24, 2007

Gracenote uncovers Alleged Musical Plagiarism

An odd story appears in the Washington Post about alleged musical plagiarism.  Gracenote's track identification technology apparently identified a musical performance of a Franz Liszt composition on a CD by an artist different from the attributed performer.  A reader of the venerable British magazine Gramophone loaded a disc by the late Joyce Hatto into his computer and Gracenote via iTunes identified the music as a performance by Laszlo Simon. 

The magazine investigated the situation, comparing performances side by side and finding them to be identical.  More Hatto recordings were compared and at least a dozen of the recordings were found to be those of other performers.  Her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, publishes her performances on the label Concert Artist.  He is quoted in the article as saying that sound waves don't prove anything.  Sound engineers, however, disagree, noting that when the wave files are displayed side by side, they are identical.  One Hatto recording was purportedly a slowed down version of another performance that when sped up 15.112% (yes, that precise) also showed an identical wave display to an unrelated recording.  This gives the impression that the alleged plagiarism was deliberate.

One thing the article mentions is how recording conduction's affect the the wave recording properties.  The timbre of the room, the microphones used, their placement, the noise inherent in the recording system, the use of limiters and other effects all will make a recording unique.  These factors are significant in the digital fingerprint that Gracenote technology uses to determine the different performances of the same piece.  Similar performances by the same artist will even hold differences that are detectable.

The details of the various recordings are available in an abbreviated story on the Gramophone's web site.  The report on the story is in the Washington Post.  Pristine Audio's web site offering the technical details of recording comparison is here.  The pages include comparative audio samples.  You be the judge. 

Both stories are amazed at the discovery but do not allude to the likely outcome, which is multiple lawsuits for copyright infringement.  The defense arguments countering the likely technical evidence should be interesting.

February 24, 2007 | Permalink

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