Document Type


Publication Date

April 2003


Digital technology has had a significant impact on the ways in which music information can be stored, transmitted, and used. Within the information sciences, music information retrieval has become an increasingly important and complex field. This brief article is addressed primarily to those involved in the design and implementation of systems for storing and retrieving digital files containing musical notation, recorded music, and relevant metadata – hereinafter referred to as a Music Information Retrieval System (“MIRS”). In particular, this group includes information specialists, software engineers, and the attorneys who advise them. Although peer-to-peer computer applications, such as Napster’s MusicShare or the Kazaa Media Desktop, can be conceived of as creating a MIRS, my analysis focuses on MIRS designed or operated by an entity that takes responsibility for choosing and controlling the music information stored in the system. Examples would include digital music collections stored in research libraries or on university intranets, as well as commercial systems with similar design features. This article describes how certain provisions of U. S. intellectual property law apply to MIRSs and mentions relevant law in the European Union for purposes of comparison. The focus is on U. S. copyright law, with very brief mention of U.S. patent and trade secret law. Additionally, the article mentions proposed legislation for database protection, which already exists in the European Union. Enactment of such legislation could be very significant for developers and operators of MIRS.