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Forensic Musicology: An Overview

The current evolution of the music industry towards digital means of recording and dissemination of material has increased the necessary skill set required of experts by legal professionals. Expert testimony for forensic musicology supports a broad spectrum of legal issues, including the authentication and differentiation of published compositions and musical recordings, performance rights, and legal determinations regarding copyright infringement. While legal cases involving music and performance infringement date back as far as the 19th century, the field of forensic musicology has no stated methodology by which an objective forensic determination can be made. Expert opinions based merely on subjective impression or resulting from the “golden ear” syndrome are pseudo-scientific and not objectively based. This paper proposes scientific methods and recommendations for analysis based on stated criteria, with the goal of controlling examiner bias. Considerations include analyses of composition, performance, and acoustical features, and factors such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration; pitch, tone, vibrato, and embellishment; metadata analysis; recording technologies; and digital signal processing, including “effects.” By engaging in a series of structured categorizations, the forensic expert can establish a consistent, replicable, and objectively verifiable means of determining whether or not a recorded piece of music has been misappropriated.

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