General Intelligence

Is Spotify’s Newly Patented A.I. Plagiarism Detector a Data Collection Scheme?

‘Spotify wants machine-made music the same way Uber wants self-driving cars’

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
4 min readDec 7, 2020

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Spotify, the music streaming giant with a reputation for underpaying artists, has staked its claim to a technology that it says could protect musicians from plagiarism allegations, according to a patent recently granted by the European Union.

According to the patent application filed in 2019, before publishing a song, or even when writing it, an artist would share a “lead sheet” with Spotify, a document that outlines a song’s melody, chords, and sometimes lyrics. The A.I. algorithm would translate the sheet music into a more machine-friendly format, and then compare it to music already in Spotify’s database. Spotify told OneZero that not every one of its patents becomes a part of its product, and wouldn’t say whether the system had been implemented or not.

Plagiarism is a critical issue in the music industry. Think back to the “Blurred Lines” legal battle, in which Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were made to pay more than $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s family after a court determined they had copied one of the songwriter’s hits. Using this new system, a plagiarized melody could be nixed before the virtual ink even dried.

While other platforms like YouTube have systems for identifying existing copyrighted music, which YouTube calls ContentID, Spotify’s approach is more targeted toward musicians creating new music, rather than people adding already copyrighted music to videos. And systems like ContentID rely on analyzing the audio itself, rather than associated sheet music.

An artist would share a “lead sheet” with Spotify, a document that outlines a song’s melody, chords, and sometimes lyrics.

But are musicians and labels going to trust Spotify, of all companies, as some sort of legal cover against plagiarism?

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.