Yesterday, I got a copyright question on my GitHub repo for my MIDI SDK. I want to know how free software projects handle such problems. In short:

  1. Is it legal to list all constants except the General MIDI 2 program names that way, given that I make it clear that this is not the official MIDI reference?

  2. The same question, but for the General MIDI 2 program names.

If the answer to both of these questions are negative, how do Libre MIDI software cope with these issues?

I thought MIDI would work in a similar way as OpenGL, and my SDK is very similar to GLEW. But it looks like I may be wrong on this point.

  • A list of constants probably isn't copyrightable. In any case, I think this question would be better asked at Law. – curiousdannii Sep 2 '17 at 6:22
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    @curiousdannii Apparently not. The question was moved back here. – user877329 Sep 2 '17 at 16:57

This is an interesting question. I have tried to browse through the https://www.midi.org/ (Trademark policy, IP policy and ToS) and I formed my opinion based on those.

There may be two problems for you.

  1. Trademark. Since "MIDI" is trademarked, you can only use it according to its usage policy. While it is allowed to use even commercially (the website is rather liberal about its use), it is only valid for products working completely according to the official specifications. If you strictly follow the specification then the usage is valid; if you deviate from the official spec it could be make valid by specifically saying that your work is based on the official, but since it deviates it is not "MIDI compatible" and cannot be called "MIDI", but it does not prevent you from mentioning that. (It may be tricky to name your repo, to avoid confusion between "midi" and "midi-like".)

  2. Copyright. While databases may be copyrightable as a whole this whole spec is a creative work, so it'd be copyrighted by itself (you canot come up with the same numbers by yourself). However all the website suggests that these are specifications for the general public (they are even referenced or partially contained by other, open and public standards) and you are allowed to use it provided it's aligned with the Midi Association's plans and purposes (which seems to be to distribute the real and reliable standards).

So, I would say that if you strictly follow the GM spec then it is valid for both the ™ and the ©, and if you deviate then you shall not call it "MIDI" but you can mention that it's based on that.

It is probably useful to repeat these sentiments in your shared repo as well if you apply them.

(If you're really worried you could ask them directly, I would if my project required to make it sure.)

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    The instrument numbers cannot be protected by copyright. For example, if you compile your own list of instrument names and numbers (possibly referring to a specification to make that list), and if it turns out that your list happens to be identical or nearly identical to another list published elsewhere in a copyrighted document (e.g. a specification), that does not mean that you violated copyright. It is a list of facts, not a creative expression. – Brandin Sep 4 '19 at 9:26
  • I disagree. I believe the question is whether the list of these numbers is a work of a result of a creative process or not. In my experience the obvious case is that if someone needs the list for the same purpose then s/he will come up with exactly the same numbers and names as the list then it is not a result of a creative process (especially if by automated means). It's not the case here, so I cannot be sure that it is not protected by copyright, since it's not a bunch of random numbers but numbers ordered and connected to specific instruments, where their pick is unique, too. – grin Sep 5 '19 at 13:44
  • The document containing the specifications itself is a creative expression. For example if you look at the document, it has creative decisions like arranging facts in tables, including spacing here or there, ordering different sections for ease of use, explanatory texts, and so on. But if you go to the table of instruments and see that 0 is Acoustic Grand, 1 is Bright Acoustic Piano, 2 is Electric Grand, 3 is Honky Tonk, etc., then to me those facts themselves cannot be copyrighted. There is only one way you can pick those numbers that is still compatible with other MIDI instruments. – Brandin Sep 5 '19 at 13:51
  • 1 piano, 2 cymbal, 3 violin, 4 high trumpet. I cannot generate the same order of same instruments. My point is not about the numbers, it is the list of ordered and numbered specific instrument names, and I would say this naming and specific ordering is unique and a result of a creative process. – grin Sep 6 '19 at 14:44
  • If what you say is true, how do you answer the OP's question then ("how do Libre MIDI software cope with these issues?"). Any implementation of MIDI in software is going to need to have this list of instruments in some form or another, somewhere in the software, and it must be in the exact order paired with the exact same instruments (or an instrument that sounds close enough) in order for it to work at all. I.e. no one will accept that "Electric Grand" is replaced by a cymbal sound, or that "Honky Tonk" is replaced by a violin. It just won't sound right. – Brandin Sep 7 '19 at 5:29

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